Agatha Christie 100 - 4.50 from Paddington

Another 50s Marple novel, this has a very striking beginning and an interesting character in the competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow.

Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy is leaving London on the titular train after a day of shopping. But sometime later another train drives up next to her own and suddenly she is a witness to a murder on the other train. She reports it immediately, but no corpse is found on the train nor along the tracks. So it's lucky that she knows a certain old lady in St. Mary Mead...

As I said, this has a very striking introduction and quickly gets going. After reasoning out where the body must be, Miss Marple recruits the uber-competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow to start searching the area by taking a position with the Crackenthorpe family at their nearby manor. The family is another one of Christie's great families with character types that work so well in a mystery such as this one.

In fact, those characters are very reminiscent of the characters from the previous Marple novel, A Pocket Full of Rye. They both feature great families, and Lucy has an immediate counterpart in the older novel's Mary Dove, who has the same type of responsibilities and is just as competent. It's interesting to contrast these two female characters...

The problem with the rest of the novel is that it's all rather loose. There's some good misdirection regarding the identity of the dead woman, but ultimately it only serves to prolong the novel. The reasoning Miss Marple uses to pinpoint the location of the body is also fairly iffy and feels like a bit of a shot in the dark.

But the main problem is the murderer's actions. I still don't really understand why they had to go through all this rigmarole. It feels as if they could have handled things much more efficiently without involving the Crackenthorpe family at all.

My immediate impression was favourable but became less so the more I thought about it. A sign of the inevitable decline? We'll see. This one just scrapes by above average, with a 53 out of 100.

1958 1962 1969 1981
1985 1990 2014 2015

The Swedish title is obviously a direct translation of the British title, which is unfortunate, since we do NOT refer to that particular time of day like that. It should have been 16.50 från Paddington, because Mrs. McGillicuddy isn't travelling in the middle of the night.

For some reason the 1958 edition decides not to focus at all on Mrs. McGillicuddy's train discovery, which is somewhat disappointing. That cover looks more like it would fit with Sparkling Cyanide or something like that.

The 1962 Zebra edition rectifies that with a great train scene. Exactly what I'm looking for in these covers. Delfinserien's cover pulls back from revealing the murder in the parallel train, instead focusing on Mrs. McGillicuddy's reaction to the whole thing. Not as great as the Zebra cover, but still pretty good.

The 1981 cover is from a book club edition, and obviously Margaret Rutherford was still seen as the quintessential Miss Marple back then, because that's her on the cover. Otherwise, that's one of the best book club covers I've seen - the train background is impressive with all the smoke billowing. Perhaps Miss Marple could have been a bit less prominent in the foreground, but that's a minor quibble.

Moving on, the 1985 cover is a more abstract depiction of Mrs. McGillicuddy's train journey. It's not bad with the desolate landscape in the background, though as you'll have gathered I'd have preferred the more exciting murder scene. (Again, this is the paperback edition, which I own. The hardback edition has the same image and some typographical differences.)

The centenary edition is not particularly distinguished, as usual. Their covers too often are much too imprecise and could really have been used for any title. The 2014 cover isn't much better, focusing as it does on a bottle.

I think the publishers may have realised that, because they changed the cover just the next year, and man, is that an improvement or what? Not only do we have a train related cover with a station in the background, but they also managed to work in the clock into the title (which has the additional boon of not featuring the incorrect time)! Another great cover.

1 comment:

  1. Let me say first that I am not a big Christie fan. I really don't understand why her stuff is still in print, and is continually being made into movies and TV episodes, while people like Ellery Queen are forgotten.

    That said, "4:50 from Paddington" (aka "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw") displays her skill not only at plotting, but at characterization -- something she is not known for. She had me *liking* the murderer in his/her early scenes, so that I was startled when the solution is revealed.