Mrs. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie

May 22, 2009

mrs-mcgintys-dead I’m edging closer and closer to my goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in chronological order. I just finished Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, which was published in 1952. This particular work features Hercule Poirot, my favorite of Christie’s detectives, so I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, the plot was a bit too twisted for me to follow, so I kind of gave up on trying to figure out who the murderer was and ended up just skimming whole passages near the end of the book — a surefire sign for me that the novel wasn’t quite up to par with Christie’s other stuff.

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): James Bentley has been convicted of murdering Mrs. McGinty, an old cleaning woman with whom he used to lodge. He is set to be executed in three short weeks, but Superintendent Spence, the lead detective in the original investigation of the crime, has a gut feeling that Bentley is innocent. Spence therefore seeks out the help of famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who agrees to come out of semi-retirement to poke around the village of Broadhinny, where the murder took place, to see what he can find out.

In reviewing the case file and the crime scene, Poirot immediately learns something that the police initially overlooked. Mrs. McGinty had been interested in a certain article in the Sunday newspaper a few days before she died. So interested, in fact, that she cut the article out and meant to do something with it. Poirot gets hold of the newspaper archives and sees that the article in question wasn’t something banal like a slimming pills review or pot roast recipe, but instead dealt with old crimes involving women, with the author speculating about what the women may be doing now. Poirot, upon also learning that Mrs. McGinty purchased a bottle of ink shortly before her death, surmises that the old woman must have recognized one of the photographs, and meant to write to someone about what she saw.

The rest of the novel then covers Poirot’s investigation into Mrs. McGinty’s death. It includes the usual interviews with suspects, theories of what might have happened, and, in typical Poirot style, a grand speech at the end with everyone in attendance in which he lays out exactly what happened and unmasks the murderer.

My Reaction: I thought Mrs. McGinty’s Dead started out well enough. It was a cold case, which I don’t think Christie ever featured in one of her novels before, and there was a definite sense of urgency as James Bentley’s execution date loomed over head. I loved seeing Poirot try to piece together what happened after so much time had passed and was amazed at how much he was able to discover on his own.

But once the circumstances involving the “women in crime” newspaper article were revealed, the novel took a turn for the worse. It was hard to keep the names straight, especially as a couple of them were very similar, and it was particularly difficult to follow what all the fuss was about. There was something about changing names, or the (now adult) child of an accused murderess not wanting that history to be widely known. I don’t know… I understood the gist of what was happening, but with Poirot saying that this person was the right age or had the right hair color, or that person has more motive… it was just more convoluted than usual.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with how Mrs. McGinty’s Dead turned out. Perhaps it’s my fault for not reading as carefully as I should have, but I’d like to think that the plot was at least a little shaky as well. Poirot fans would be better served trying a different novel. I give this novel 2 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie”

  1. This is a very misleading review. Contrary to the reviewer’s claims, “Mrs McGinty is Dead” is a superb book. I think the reviewer states the problem herself when she says she did not read the book carefully. Because if she had, she would have found it a very intelligent and witty story. For an alternate (more accurate?) review, please read:
    http://www.judgementbookreviews.com/2009/06/mrs-mcgintys-dead.html

  2. I read your review, and appreciate the different viewpoint. However, I would stop short of saying that mine is “misleading” and yours is more “accurate”… I mean, everyone has their own opinions, right?

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