One cannot go wrong with an Agatha Christie, can they? Of all the projects that I have started and left midway, reading the entire Agatha Christie collection was the one that I almost came close to completing. Maybe I was near completing it only because I had started it during my school days and our library suddenly had replenished their book stock with lots of Christie's. I have decided to re-read as many books of hers as possible this year and try and revive the reviewing habit. Of course, I would be continuing to read and review other books as well. So let us take our plunge, right away.
Book Name: 4:50 from Paddington
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Fiction Thriller
Characters: Miss Jane Marple, Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy, Luther Crackenthorpe, Emma, Alfred, Cedric and Harold Crackenthorpe
What would you do if you witness a murder that no one seems to believe about? Give up? Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy doesn't. On her return journey after her Christmas purchase by train the 4:50 from Paddington, she witnesses a man strangling a woman on the train that passes hers. She reaches to the concerned authorities but realises that no one is taking her word seriously. Lucky for her, she stays with her friend Miss Jane Marple, an old busybody who not just knows the right people to talk to, but also believes earnestly in her friend that she decides to solve the case on her own.
Miss Marple is 'just the finest detective God ever made ‐ natural genius cultivated in a suitable soil'. She is handicapped by fragility due to her age, but she helps to solve cases for the Scotland Yard. So she doesn't waste much of her time when she understands that her friend Mrs McGillicuddy was speaking the truth. But unfortunately for them, no body of a blonde woman turns up in the following days. When Mrs McGillicuddy leaves after her stay, Miss Marple takes it upon herself as a duty to find the body and the murderer.
Using the never-ending list of people who would love to help an old lady, she studies the route of the trains that pass through that particular station at the given time, and quickly zeroes in Rutherford Hall as the place where they could find the body. She sends in an efficient and thorough house help Miss Lucy Eyelesbarrow to Rutherford to discover the body. Unfortunately for them, they find out not just a body but a series of murder that may or not be connected to the first one related to the 4:50 from Paddington.
Things are never as they seem, particularly when there is a broken family with a large sum of money to be inherited when the father kicks off and every one of them has a lot to lose if that didn't happen anytime sooner, concerned. The Crackenthorpe family consists of the old man Luther Crackenthorpe, his daughter Emma who stays in to take care of her apparently invalid father and their three sons Alfred, Cedric and Harold. Though the latter do not live at Rutherford, they do visit their father often. Harold, a businessman and a prominent figure in the city, Alfred, the black sheep of the family and the one who is into shady deals and Cedric, the rebellious painter who lives in Ibiza, look like the man Mrs McGillicuddy saw from her train. Their widower son in law Bryan Eastley and his son Alexander would also benefit from the family inheritance. There are too many suspects and motives and far too fewer clues to continue, or so the police think but not long before Miss Marple solves the crimes, thanks to Mrs McGillicuddy's return to the story once again.
The ending is entirely unexpected, as with most of the Agatha Christie's. Miss Marple appears too little in the story, to my liking. In fact, she arrives only to stitch the bits and pieces of everyone's part into a meaningful whodunnit. Lucy plays her stand-in for the most part of the story and does more than what is expected of her. There are funny parts that worked only for her like the one where all the Crackenthorpes men were trying to make some proposition to her.
Another thing I love about the story is how easy the young ones have it there, you know amidst murders and all. In fact the elders considered it even healthy for the kids to go look for clues about the murderer, and it goes as far as one of the elders is ready to prepare a fake clue just to keep them occupied. Maybe it was just the period they lived in, but the presence of these kids did liven up the book by a bit.
Though 4:50 from Paddington is definitely not my favorite Agatha Christie, it was a pleasure re-reading just for the childhood memories. The story ran too long and too slow in parts. The ending was unexpected, but it failed to make the reader wonder how he had missed the glaring clue at the end after it was solved. I love whodunnits that make me feel that surprised that 'oh the murderer was just among them, all along. How did I miss that?' Well, 4:50 from Paddington did not do that. Oops, I have said enough, no more spoilers.
Bottom-line: Best read during a train journey.