Goodreads: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
Series: Miss Marple #9
Age Category: Adult
Publication Date: 1962
Heather Badcock is meeting her idol, the film star Marina Gregg, when suddenly she seems overcome by an illness. In a few minutes, she is dead. Poison is the cause, but was it meant for Heather or for Marina? Miss Marple matches wits once again with a killer as she tries to uncover the real motive behind the murder.
The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side takes on a more somber tone than previous installments in the series, as Miss Marple finds herself aging and treated as a child by her disrespectful caregiver. Even though her mental faculties are as keen as ever, Miss Marple has to face the fact that her physical health is not quite what it once was. And that times are changing. Many of her old friends are gone, the village has grown with the addition of a new Development, and family-owned shops are being replaced by supermarkets. Miss Marple’s personal struggles receive almost equal weight to the murder mystery, adding a personal touch that is sometimes missing in other books, when her musings about the old days are treated a bit more like a joke. Indeed, I would say that Miss Marple’s aging gives the story more interest than the murder mystery, which lacks enough clues to make it truly engaging.
Miss Marple has always been a grand protagonist because she challenges stereotypes about the elderly. Ageism is rampant in many societies–despite the fact that everyone faces the possibility of growing old one day–and Christie’s Miss Marple books have always subtly challenged it by presenting readers with an old woman who whose wits are sharper than anyone else’s around her. But The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is not subtle. In this story, Miss Marple is even older than previously–the book is full of wistful mentions of her former cases, her former friends. And she is, while not bedridden, practically forbidden to leave her house, and at the mercy of a caregiver who treats her like she no longer has the ability to think clearly or make decisions for herself. The worst of it is that, the more she is treated with contempt, the more Miss Marple seems to start to wonder if perhaps she is not a bit too old, if perhaps she ought to give in. Readers, of course, know that Miss Marple can still vie intellectually with the best of them. But Miss Marple, as an old woman, is not allowed to speak for herself; there is no one to listen. The others always know better.
All of this gives The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side a bit of a melancholy air, as if Miss Marple is ready to say goodbye not only to solving mysteries but also to life. I admit I was more concerned about her emotional wellbeing than I was about the mystery, which lacked enough clues to make it really intriguing. The police turn up plenty of possible suspects, but I knew who the culprit was from the first. I just could not figure out the motive–and I do not know that there were really enough clues that I could have figured it out. Readers need Miss Marple to explain it all at the end. But my favorite mysteries do not rely on the detectives pulling out some obscure knowledge at the end, to cause wonder and surprise.
Still, I think The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side will be one of my favorite Miss Marple stories for the sensitivity and empathy with which it depicts aging. Christie, at the time of publication, would have been 72, and perhaps feeling herself the doubts of those around her. How long could she keep going? Would her writing still be up to par? Not often do the concerns of the aging get so much attention in literature. It is refreshing to see Christie remind readers that Miss Marple, even if seemingly funny with her old-fashioned ways, is still human and still worthy of respect.