Book Review: 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Elspeth McGillicuddy has just completed her Christmas shopping in London and is on the train to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple.  When another train draws parallel to her own, the blind in the opposite compartment flies up and she glimpses a man strangling a woman.  Although she cannot make out all the details, she is certain of what she saw, as is Miss Marple, when she recounts her tale.

Naturally, they report what she believed she witnessed to the appropriate authorities, but when no body materialises, Miss Marple realises that she is going to have to come up with a plan to not only prove her friend was right, but to find justice for the dead woman.  Using maps and Elspeth’s recollections, Miss Marple is able to pinpoint the location of the crime.  Nearby can be found Rutherford Hall.  Logic dictates that it is there, perhaps somewhere on the edge of the vast estate, that the murdered woman’s body lies dumped and hidden.

Miss Marple calls in a favour with a friend, the much in-demand Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who gets herself employed as a sort of housekeeper by the Crackenthorpe family who live in Rutherford Hall so that she can investigate undercover.  However, things are not that easy.  The Crackenthorpes are a dysfunctional family, who lie, cheat and keep secrets.  But is there a murderer in Rutherford?  Who is the dead woman?  And, is Lucy in any danger?

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple stories (my favourite is Murder at the Vicarage).  Lucy is a very interesting character, especially, I believe, to later generations who lack first-hand experience with domestic service.

The opening chapter unveiling the crime is one of the best starts to a book.  It is remarkable and unforgettable and although we, like Elspeth McGillicuddy are witness to a murder, there is nothing anyone can do.  We are all helpless as the woman is being strangled on the other train.

The Crackenthorpe family are interesting suspects, especially as they all seem to have a secret they wish to keep hidden.  And of course, old Crackenthorpe, the miserly father of the brood, is entertaining in as much as he thinks all of his children are trying to kill him but he plans to outlive the lot of them.

A fabulous cosy mystery and a quick read whodunnit.  What’s not to like?

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