4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

October 14, 2010

4 50 from paddington Plot summary (with spoilers): Elspeth McGillicuddy is traveling by rail from Scotland to the little village of St. Mary Mead to visit her dear old friend Jane Marple. On the way, she witnesses something awful: a man strangling a woman on a train running on a parallel track. Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the incident first to the porter, then to Miss Marple and the police. Since no body has been discovered and no one has been reported missing, everyone thinks Mrs. McGillicuddy is simply suffering from an overactive imagination. Everyone, that is, except Miss Marple.

Taking it on faith that Mrs. McGillicuddy did indeed see a murder, Miss Marple revisits the same route and concludes that there’s only one logical place where the body could have been disposed of: an estate called Rutherford Hall, which is in a perfect location near a bend in the tracks. Miss Marple calls on friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow, an efficient maid, to apply for a position at Rutherford Hall. Lucy gets the job, and uses her free time to snoop around. She eventually discovers the body hidden in an old sarcophagus.

Now the police are called in and people familiar with Rutherford Hall are questioned as suspects. The suspects consist mainly of members of the Crackenthorpe family, as they are proprietors of the estate. These include old Luther Crackenthorpe, the tight-fisted patriarch of the estate; his sons Harry, Alfred, and Cedric; Brian Eastley, Luther’s widowed son-in-law, and Emma Crackenthorpe, Luther’s spinster daughter.

The rest of the novel then shows Inspector Craddock interviewing the suspects, piecing together various timelines, and uncovering more clues. But it’s Miss Marple who unmasks the real killer in the end, as she gets the man to unwittingly recreate the scene in front of Mrs. McGillicuddy once again.

Liked:

  • I enjoyed the premise for this novel. I thought it was cool that someone would witness a murder on a passing train, yet not be able to pinpoint whodunit because the body was never discovered.
  • I thought it was ingenious how Miss Marple figured out that Rutherford Hall was the only likely place where the body could have been dumped. That was a very neat touch.
  • All the suspects had viable motives, and none of their alibis could really be trusted. Unfortunately, no one did anything as obvious as buy life insurance in the victim’s name, so I was guessing until the end.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t like that Miss Marple essentially disappeared from the investigation for most of the second act. She was there at the beginning and again at the end, but was largely absent from the middle. She was supposed to be the main attraction, so I would rather have had her investigating than Inspector Craddock.
  • Speaking of investigating the case, how was it that Miss Marple figured out the killer’s identity? As far as I could tell, there were no real clues pointing to Dr. Quimper having murdered his still-living wife, so how did Jane figure that out? It’s not exactly playing fair when the detective is privy to info that the reader is not.
  • The actual motive for the murder was rather commonplace. Does it always have to be about money?

Rating:

On the whole, 4.50 from Paddington was a fairly decent murder mystery. It probably doesn’t number among Agatha Christie’s best, but neither does it belong at the bottom of the pack. It’s mostly a solid, entertaining read, so I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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