11 April 2013

Review: 4.50 FROM PADDINGTON, Agatha Christie

  • first published 1957
  • This edition published by the Hamlyn group 1969
  • 189 pages
  • Source: my private collection
  • #50 in the titles I have read for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge
  • #9/14 in the Miss Marple series
Synopsis (Christie site)

“A man strangled a woman! In a train. I saw it.” Elspeth McGillicuddy was not a woman usually given to hallucinations. But when she witnesses a woman being strangled on a train, no-one believes her. With no other witnesses and no corpse, she turns to the one person who can help, but how can Miss Marple solve a murder that appears not to have happened?

4.50 from Paddington (1957) is one of Christie’s most celebrated novels. It was here she introduced Miss Marple’s great-nephew, David, to assist her in the investigation. This was also the only time Christie would introduce a female ‘sidekick’ for Miss Marple; Lucy Eyelesbarrow, the young girl who infiltrates the Crackenthorpe family. Critics lauded the appearance of Lucy though this would be the only time she appeared in a Marple novel.

4.50 from Paddington was published in America under the title, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!  MGM adapted the novel into the film, Murder She Said in 1962.  Starring Margaret Rutherford, a friend of the Christie family, it is loved by fans the world over.  In 1988 it was adapted by the BBC in a more faithful adaptation starring Joan Hickson.  In 2004 it was filmed with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.

In all the American editions of this book the train time given is 4.54 rather than 4.50.  The original title was going to be 4.54 from Paddington but at the last minute the UK publishers changed it to 4.50 from Paddington. It was too late for Dodd Mead to make these changes as the manuscript had already gone to press.

My Take

There are some interesting aspects of the setting of this novel that place it quite firmly in the mid to late 1950s. The oldest son in the Crackenthorpe family was killed in the war and there is some speculation that he might have had a son who would now be 15 or 16 years old. The house in which most of the action takes place, Rutherford Hall, has seen better days: the grounds are very neglected and there used to be a lot more staff to run it.

There are a number of references to Miss Marple being frail and elderly but it doesn't stop her from undertaking quite extraordinary train journeys to establish a timeline for the murder that her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy witnessed. There are also quite a number of references to both Miss Marple and Mrs McGillicuddy carrying out a "duty" in tracking down the facts and culprit in the murder. There's a sense that they have old fashioned values that the younger generation don't share, although we are offered some hope in the "boys" who sleuth the grounds of Rutherford Hall enthusiastically. There's a sense too of the loss that the war caused - the death of the elder son, the poverty that followed the war, the physical/architectural structures damaged and never repaired, the disillusionment, marriages that never took place etc.

There's romance in the air too in this novel, a bit unusual for Miss Marple, but there are times when she appears to be playing the matchmaker.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. By comparison with modern day books it is quite short but you'd be wrong if you thought the brevity came at the expense of character development and setting. There are plenty of red herrings - I'd forgotten the solution and it came as a surprise.

My rating: 4.4

I've included this as a contribution to this week's Forgotten Books (Pattinase).
See what others have chosen.


vicki (skiourophile) said...

I loved Lucy Eyelesbarrow - so sad she never made a reappearance. I wouldn't mind reading this one again, although sadly I remember whodunnit. As you say, the characters and setting were so well done.

Ryan said...

Haven't read this in years, can't wait until it's in my hands again.

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I always liked this one very much myself. One of the things that really works for me is the character of Lucy Eyelesbarrow. She's nicely drawn and seems quite real. And such an honest depiction too of the difficulty that Mrs. McGillicuddy and Miss Marple have getting anyone to pay attention to their story (at the beginning of the novel). Yes, definitely a good 'un.

Kris said...

Who doesn't love these books? I featured this post in my weekly newsletter. If you'd like a copy, please feel free to let me know! Cheers,

peter reynard said...

One of the first Christie books I read and still one of my favorites. The reveal might be a little dated by now, but when I first read it, I thought it was really cool.

George said...

I've always like this book. Christie seemed to be at the top of her game.

Clothes In Books said...

Ditto on Lucy: I always loved her too.


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