Summary (Amazon):The quaint village of St Mary Mead has been glamourized by the presence of screen queen Marina Gregg, who has taken up residence in preparation for her comeback. But when a local fan is poisoned, Marina finds herself starring in a real-life mystery—supported with scene-stealing aplomb by Jane Marple, who suspects that the lethal cocktail was intended for someone else. But who? If it was meant for Marina, then why? And before the final fade-out, who else from St Mary Mead’s cast of seemingly innocent characters is going to be eliminated?
My Review (Spoilers!! For real, it’s a mystery!)
Executive Summary: suspenseful
I have read exactly 1 Agatha Christie novel prior to this (Murder on the Orient Express). My mother has read approximately all of them (some of them aren’t in print any more but aside from that). Recently, a podcast I follow, Stuff Mom Never Told You, did an episode on female detectives, and one who came up in book form was Miss Marple. The podcast discussed how Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote was based off of Miss Marple. As I had never read any Miss Marple (Murder on the Orient Express was Hercule Poirot), I asked my mom for a good Miss Marple suggestion, and this was the book that she chose. I really enjoyed the book, and maybe once I get through some more of the books on my To Read list, I’ll fill in with a few more Agatha’s.
As I’ve never reviewed a true “who done it?” type of mystery, I’m going to try setting it up as “crime scene”, “potential suspects & testimony” and “solution”. We’ll see how it goes. So if you want to read the book eventually but don’t want to know the ending, don’t read the “solution” section!
The book begins by discussing some general information about St. Mary Mead, the town where Miss Marple lives. The quaint little town is changing now that a new housing area has been built called “The Development”. A lot of the other older ladies are a bit skeptical of The Development and the people who live there, but Miss Marple thinks you have to keep up with the times as human beings are always the same as they always have been. She even goes so far as to evade her annoying but well-meaning maid, Miss Knight, by sending her on a long shopping trip, and sneak off to see The Development by herself. While there, she gives some advice to a girl about getting not married to the man who she is with (he is a loser, so I supported Miss Marple butting in!) but as she is leaving, she falls. A nice lady from one of the nearby houses comes out to help, takes her inside, and gets her a cup of tea. Mrs. Badcock and her husband introduce themselves. Mrs. Badcock brings up the new favorite gossip topic of the town–Marina Gregg (a famous actress) and her husband are moving into Gossington Hall. Mrs. Badcock tells about how she once met Marina despite being sick, sneaking out against doctor’s orders.
Marina Gregg and her fourth husband, Jason “Jinks” Rudd, were hosting an event at Gossington Hall for the St. John Ambulance. An eclectic group of people were invited to this event including the Ambulance group volunteers, Marina’s friends and associates, and Mrs. Bantry, Miss Marple’s friend and also the previous owner of Gossington Hall. A greeting line for the VIP attendants was assembled at the top of the stairs to meet Marina Gregg and her husband. Just in front of Mrs. Bantry in line was the Councillor and Mrs. Allcock, and behind her, the vicar followed by Mr. and Mrs. Badcock (Mrs. Badcock is the secretary of the Ambulance committee.) As Mrs. Badcock meets Marina, she spills the story of how once in Bermuda, she sneaked out despite being sick, to meet Marina and get her autograph. In the meantime, Mrs. Allcock and Mrs. Bantry were discussing how the house had changed and convinced Jason to allow them to view the bathrooms. Marina had dazed off during Mrs. Badcock’s spiel and when finally finished, offers her a drink. Jason suggests a daiquiri, Marina’s favorite, and brings one for both of them. Mrs. Allcock and Mrs. Bantry mosey off to explore. As they are on their way back to the main party, commotion arises as Mrs. Badcock has taken ill with a seizure or something, and before anything can be done, she has died.
Potential Suspects & Testimony:
The following day, Mrs. Bantry comes by to see Miss Marple to tell her what has happened, but her housemaid, Cherry, spills the beans first. Cherry is a juxtaposition of the other maid Mrs. Knight, as Cherry lives in The Development and cares much less about how things are “supposed to be” (aka always have been). Cherry informs her that Mrs. Badcock died after having a drink at Gossington Hall despite her being of good health, and the death is suspicious because they are doing an autopsy. When the doctor comes later to check on Miss Marple, he notices that she is in good health and spirits now that she has a murder to solve! The Chief-Inspector in London, Dermot Craddock, is eventually involved in the investigation, and he and Miss Marple share ideas throughout.
Mrs. Bantry: She was at the crime scene, but didn’t witness the actual death. She tells Miss Marple who all was at the scene of the crime–Miss Ella Zielinsky (Marina’s social secretary), Hailey Prescott (Marina’s secretary), the vicar, the mayor and his wife, a reporter with a funny beard, a photographer, 2 Studio people, and the Grices. Mrs. Bantry observed that as Mrs. Badcock was telling Marina the story of their prior meeting that Marina became frozen like the Lady of Shallott “The mirror crack’d from side to side: ‘The doom has come upon me,’ cried the Lady of Shallott.” as she was staring at something beyond Mrs. Badcock–either someone else on the stairs or possibly a picture on the wall of the Bellini Madonna. (I have never read this Tennyson story so some of this was missed on me but obviously it’s where the book title came from)
Arthur Badcock: Mr. Badcock was the husband of the deceased. As the inspector and Mr. Badcock arrive at Mr. Badcock’s home, the inspector is surprised to find a widowed neighbor woman already inside making tea. The inspector asks Mr. Badcock if his wife had ever taken Calmo, the street name of the drug that Mrs. Badcock had been poisoned with, but he did not know of her ever taking any medication. They go over what happened at Gossington Hall, and Mr. Badcock mentions that after his wife received her drink, they moved away and were speaking to some other friends, when someone bumped his wife’s elbow and she spilled her drink down her dress. Marina helped her clean up and even offered Mrs. Badcock her own drink which she hadn’t touched. Miss Marple, based on her initial meeting of Mr. Badcock, does not suspect he would be capable of poisoning his wife although she thinks he will probably marry again soon.
Hailey Preston: Hailey was Marina’s personal assistant. Hailey tells the inspector that Calmo is very common around the household. He takes it sometimes because it calms you down and picks you up. There are bottles in most of the cupboards as Marina and Miss Zielinsky also take it from time to time. Hailey specifies that the reporter with the funny beard was Jim Galbraith, and that one of the “Studio people” was Ardwyck Fenn, a good friend of Marina’s second husband.
Jason Rudd: Marina Gregg’s husband, and obvious suspect #1 because…it’s always the husband! When asked about Marina’s freezing while talking to Mrs. Badcock, Jason doesn’t remember it. He suspects maybe because it’s so tiring hearing stories about people meeting her which to them is a very big deal but to her, it is not. He also suspects that perhaps his wife was the target of the poisoning, but it was an accident that Mrs. Badcock was instead. Marina has always been nervy, and has always desperately been looking for love, children, and happiness. Marina adopted 3 children, but then eleven years ago got pregnant with a child, a boy. (Miss Marple is very curious what happened to the adopted children.) The child was born handicapped and placed in a home. Marina never fully recovered. On the night of the incident, he poured his wife and Mrs. Badcock cocktails from a jug that was premade. While he saw his wife set her glass down for photographs, he did not see anyone poison it.
Miss Ella Zielinsky: Marina’s social secretary who was at the scene. Marina admits that they all take Calmo, and that perhaps it was just an accidental overdose. She claims Marina may have thought a drink was hers when perhaps it wasn’t. Apparently Marina is flitty like that. Working for Marina is difficult as she is prone to extreme ups and downs, and she becomes very sensitive when around children. Ella is also in love with Jason. She also suffers from hay fever
Marina Gregg: the actress. Marina has been married 4 times. First to a realtor, the second was a foreign prince. Third was a film star, and fourth was current husband Jason. Marina believes that she was the target of the poison as it was her drink that Mrs. Badcock had in the end. And she has also received messages. Recently one that said “Don’t think you’ll escape next time”. Another came when they had just moved in which said “Prepare to Die” and one came on the day of the party which said “Today will be your last day on earth”. Marina has no idea who they are from. When asked about her “mirror crack’d” look, she explains it away with just going through the gestures and then getting lost in the repetition.
Miss Lola Brewster: the other “Studio person” in the receiving line. She was apparently married to Marina’s 3rd husband, and Marina lured the man away. Despite Lola threatening Marina once long ago at a drunken party, there are no hard feelings between the two. Lola has no idea what happened to the adopted children.
Ardwyck Fenn: the “Studio person”. He and Marina have known each other for many years. He suggests that possibly the crime could have been committed by the understudy in Marina’s upcoming film, but the problem is that she wasn’t at the party. He has no real useful information.
Margot Bence: the photographer. She took photos of all the people in the receiving line at the party, and she managed to snap a photo of the exact “mirror crack’d” face that Marina was making. As Dermot continues interviewing her, he realizes that she is one of the missing adopted children! She took the job as a bit of a gag because she wanted to see if Marina recognized her (she didn’t). She and the other children were sent away with decent stipends and new families once the biological baby was made. She lost track of the others but assures Dermot that she has no reason to kill Marina.
Marina continues to be watched. Some coffee at her movie set seemed off, and after a sip, her husband took it and threw it out (saving just a bit to test). It came back poisoned with arsenic which is tasteless. She continues to get threatening notes. Ella Zielinsky is up to something. Mrs. Bantry sees her twice making phone calls from the public phone. First she tells Mrs. Bantry that the phone at Gossington Hall is out, but Mrs. Bantry phones there, and their line is just fine. She returns to the house, still suffering her hay fever, and takes cyanide-laced medicine just after telling Jason that Giuseppe has left for London. The Inspector receives a call from Ardwyck Fenn who says that he was being blackmailed by Ella–he recognized her sneeze.
When Giuseppe returns from London, he heads to his bedroom where a window has been left open. He is shot twice.
Miss Marple discusses the case with Cherry the next day, when Cherry reveals that her friend Gladys, a seamstress, was going to meet Giuseppe. Gladys had told Cherry something “funny” that she wanted to ask the butler about. Gladys had said that “she did it on purpose” to which Cherry asked “spilt the cocktail on purpose?” to which Gladys replied yes. When the inspector goes to speak to Gladys later that day, she is gone.
Marina continues to despair about the situation surrounding her. First the cocktail meant for her, then the coffee and the notes, and then the additional deaths of Giuseppe and Ella.
Miss Marple requested again that all of the people who witnessed Mrs. Badcock’s story to Marina tell again what she had said. Comparing the stories, Miss Marple realizes that Mrs. Badcock had been sick with German measles when she went to see Marina. German measles apparently causes or birth defects. (I didn’t know this.) So as Mrs. Badcock is telling Marina her story, Marina sees the picture of the Virgin Mary and realizes that the reason that her child was born with disabilities and she is unable to have any more children is because of this woman who gave her the measles. So she poisoned her own drink, bumped into Mrs. Badcock forcing her to spill hers. Marina then offers up her own poisoned drink for Mrs. Badcock. Ella and Giuseppe were killed to cover up loose ends, and in the end Marina poisons herself, possibly with her husband’s help.
Verdict: 4 stars
I understand why Agatha is so well esteemed. Her story offers up just the right amount of clues and red herrings to keep you guessing until the end. I did guess it, but I wasn’t certain. I enjoyed Miss Marple as she had just the right about of sass and pessimism for my taste! I’ll definitely read another Agatha in the future.