As noted in my ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER post, in 2021 I completed a seven-year-long endeavor to read every Poirot novel. Why? I wanted to scrutinize how Christie adjusted Poirot and his scenarios to adapt to the passage of time, given that the initial Poirot novel — THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES — was first published in 1920, and the last-penned novel — ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER — was published in 1972. A single author continuing the journey of a character explicitly created to examine human nature, over the span of fifty years, is a curious thing indeed.
However, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES was not my first Christie book; that would be the second Miss Marple book THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, which I picked up on a whim while in London, several months prior to reading my first Poirot novel.
While I haven’t found the need to burn through all of Christie’s Marple novels, I became intensely curious about THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE (CRACK’D from here on out), as it features Marple diving into the world of Hollywood, specifically the world of acting, when the acclaimed-but-aging actress Marina Gregg moves into Gossington Hall*. While throwing a lavish introductory party, one of the locals ends up being poisoned, and Scotland Yard presumes that the murder was misplaced, that Marina was the actual target, and the mystery is then investigated.
While CRACK’D takes place in the early sixties, its reliance on the Hollywood of old, and Christie’s demeanor and approach makes it feel more like a post WWII mystery novel, even down to the scandal trades that she notes (CONFIDENTIAL and the like) makes the tale feel aged and artificial, as if it’s something Marple is regaling a relative with as opposed to living in the moment. In other words, it’s not one of Christie’s finest moments.
There’s also the fact that the mystery is nakedly cribbed from real-life events. Spoilers follow, so reader beware.
CRACK’D is essentially the story of Gene Tierney, perhaps best known for the enigmatic film noir adaptation of LAURA. Tierney was quite the starlet during the 40s, was the model for Mariana Gregg, and whose child was afflicted due to being in close proximity to someone inflicted with German Measles. If you know that fact going in, the mystery is quite straight-forward. Whether it was common knowledge in the early 60s is questionable, but given the fact that I knew it going in, it cast a bit of a pall over the story, especially since Marple barely bookends the story, leaving the heavy-lifting to Detective-Inspector Craddock.
Nonetheless, it’s an eminently brisk read, one worth your time if you’re interested in the inside baseball of 40s Hollywood, but if you aren’t, and aren’t a fan of Miss Marple? Feel free to return to the library.
- Gossington Hall was where the titular body in the library was found in THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, bringing my Christie journey full-circle.