The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|12 November 1962|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Pale Horse|
|Followed by||The Clocks|
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 12 November 1962 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in September 1963 under the shorter title of The Mirror Crack'd and with a copyright date of 1962. The UK edition retailed at fifteen shillings (15/-) and the US edition at $3.75.
It is set in the fictional English village of St. Mary Mead and features Miss Marple. It was dedicated by Christie: "To Margaret Rutherford, in admiration." The story reflects heavily on how much has changed in the world in the 1960s. The story acts as a sort of sequel to The Body in the Library.
Miss Marple investigates the murder of Heather Badcock, who consumed a poisoned cocktail apparently meant for American film actress Marina Gregg, Heather's idol. As Marple investigates, she discovers dark secrets in Marina's past, secrets which also link to other seemingly innocent citizens of St. Mary Mead.
Sometime after Colonel Arthur Bantry dies of pneumonia, his wife moves into a cottage on the estate grounds and sells Gossington Hall to film star Marina Gregg, who takes up residence with her husband Jason Rudd. At a fête hosted by Marina, St John Ambulance helper Heather Badcock drinks a daiquiri and subsequently dies. The coroner reveals Heather died as a result of ingesting four grains of the antidepressant Calmo, a quantity six times the recommended dose.
Shortly before her death, Heather was in conversation with Marina, giving her a long, boring account of how she had met Marina many years ago in Bermuda, getting out of bed despite her illness and putting on lots of makeup, to seek Marina's autograph.
Marina is seen with a "frozen" look on her face for a moment while Heather talks to her; it is a look likened to the Lady of Shalott, as though "doom has come upon her."
It then comes to light that Marina had handed her own drink to Heather after Heather's was spilled. Therefore, it is surmised that Marina must be the intended victim. As a famous star who has married five times, she is a far more likely murder target. Suspicion is cast on many people, including Marina's seemingly devoted husband, a big-shot American TV producer who is a former admirer and an American actress who was previously Marina's rival in love (both Americans turn up unexpectedly at the party). A photographer at the party is actually one of three children Marina had adopted in the past for a while and then "got tired of" (Marina does not recognise her as such at the party).
Many years before, Marina desperately wanted children of her own but had difficulties conceiving. After adopting three children (Margot, Angus and Rod), she became pregnant but her baby, Bobby, was born mentally disabled and abandoned to a lifetime of institutions, leaving Marina emotionally scarred. This misfortune was due to Marina contracting German measles in the early stages of her pregnancy.
While police search for clues, two other murders take place – one of Jason's secretary and the other of Marina's butler (both of whom were serving drinks at the party). Jason's secretary, Ella Zielinsky is found murdered by cyanide poisoning, with the poison being administered by means of the atomiser she needed to use frequently for her attacks of hay fever. Marina's Italian butler, Giuseppe, goes to London and deposits £500 into his bank account. He returns to Gossington Hall in a very good mood where he is shot in the back and dies instantly.
Miss Marple finally deduces what Marina had instantly realised at the party, that Heather is the woman who was responsible for infecting Marina with German measles all those years previously when she put on makeup to cover the rash and approached Marina for her autograph. Overcome by rage and grief at seeing her unwitting tormentor looking so happy and proud of her act, Marina impulsively poisons her own glass and hands it to Heather after making Heather spill her own drink. Giuseppe and possibly Ella had seen this; Giuseppe blackmailed her, and both he and Ella died because of the threat they presented.
At the end of the book, Marina dies peacefully in her sleep after having taken an overdose of Calmo; it is not stated whether her death was an accident, suicide or possibly "assisted suicide" as hinted at by Miss Marple.
Explanation of the title
- Out flew the web and floated wide-
- The mirror crack'd from side to side;
- "The curse is come upon me," cried
- The Lady of Shalott.
At the end, Miss Marple quotes the last three lines:
- He said, "She has a lovely face;
- God in his mercy lend her grace,
- The Lady of Shalott."
Literary significance and reception
"she has of course thought up one more brilliant little peg on which to hang her plot, but the chief interest to me of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side was the shrewd exposition of what makes a female film star tick the way she does tick. And though one could accept a single coincidence concerning that married couple, the second and quite wildly improbable one tends to destroy faith in the story – still more so since it leads nowhere at all."
"The last of the true English village mysteries in Christie's output, and one of the best of her later books. Film milieu superimposed on the familiar St Mary Mead background. Like most Marples this is not rich in clueing, but the changes in village life and class structure since the war are detailed in a knowledgeable and fairly sympathetic way."
References to actual history
There can be little doubt that Christie used the real-life tragedy of American actress Gene Tierney as the basis of her plot. Tierney described the event in her autobiography (Self-Portrait, New York: Wyden, 1979), but it had been well publicised for years previously.
In June 1943, while pregnant with her first child, Tierney came down with German measles, contracted during her only appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. Congenital rubella syndrome was passed on to the baby, Daria, who was born prematurely, weighing only 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and requiring a total blood transfusion. The infant was also deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and severely developmentally disabled. The child ultimately had to be institutionalised.
Some time later, Tierney was approached by a female fan for an autograph at a garden party who revealed that during WWII she had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with German measles to visit the Hollywood Canteen and meet Tierney. The incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is repeated almost verbatim in the story.
Film and television adaptations
Several adaptations have been made of the novel, which include the following:
- The novel was adapted for a 1980 feature film with Angela Lansbury in the role of Miss Marple. The film's co-stars were Elizabeth Taylor as Marina Gregg (married and named Rudd in the adaptation) and Kim Novak as Lola Brewster, and the cast also included Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. The film was released as The Mirror Crack'd, the shortened US book title. The film changed a number of elements in the novel, including Marina's surname (she uses Rudd, not Gregg), her associates, removing the character of Giuseppe, adding death threats, amongst other modifications, including shifting the setting to 1953, nine years before the book's publication.
- A second adaptation of the novel was made by BBC television in 1992 as part of its series Miss Marple with the title role played by Joan Hickson (in her final performance as Jane Marple), and starring Claire Bloom as Marina Gregg and Glynis Barber as Lola Brewster. The only major changes were that Giuseppe is not killed, Alfred Badcock is not a former husband of Mariana Gregg, Superintendent Slack and Sergeant Lake are written in and the character of Hailey Preston is removed. The novel was the final adaptation for the BBC series Miss Marple. Margaret Courtenay appeared in this adaptation as Miss Knight, having previously portrayed Dolly Bantry in the 1980 feature film version.
- ITV Studios and WGBH Boston produced another adaptation for the Marple television series starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, with Joanna Lumley reprising her role as Dolly Bantry, Lindsay Duncan as Marina Gregg and Hannah Waddingham as Lola Brewster. Investigating the murder along with Miss Marple is Inspector Hewitt, played by Hugh Bonneville. This version, while ultimately faithful to Christie's original text, included a number of notable changes. Some of these changes were influenced by the changes that were made in the 1980 film adaptation:
- Ella's surname is changed from Zielinsky to Blunt. The reason for her murder was changed, mixing in elements from the 1980 film and the motive for Giuseppe's murder - Ella was attempting to blackmail the killer, but kept ringing the wrong people because she knew someone at the reception had done it, until she learned something that led her to phoning Marina and pointing out what she had done. Her love of Jason remains, but there is no affair.
- Giuseppe is omitted from the adaptation, and there is no reference to car-man Inch selling his business within it.
- Unlike the 1980 film adaptation, only one film is being shot in England, and that focuses on Nefertiti.
- Lola Brewster is married to one of Marina's old husbands, Victor Hogg (added in the adaptation.) She is a journalist, who writes a couple of pieces regarding the murders and who doesn't have much love of Marina; she and Marina had competed for the love of Jason, who married the latter, leaving Lola bitter about it. Both she and Victor attend the reception and the filming of one of Marina's scenes.
- Film director and screenwriter Rituparno Ghosh created a Bengali language version of Christie's story as Shubho Mahurat, which reset the story in the film industry of Kolkata. In this version, Sharmila Tagore plays the ageing star Padmini, the counterpart to Christie's Marina Gregg. The movie features Rakhi Gulzar in the role of the equivalent of Miss Marple.
- 1962, Collins Crime Club (London), 12 November 1962, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1963, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), September 1963, Hardback, 246 pp
- 1964, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
- 1965, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1966, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 255 pp
- 1974, Penguin Books, Paperback, 224 pp
- 2006, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1962 UK first edition), 6 March 2006, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720855-3
- 2011 William Morrow and Company, Trade Paperback, 288 pp, ISBN 978-0062073679
The novel was serialised in the Star Weekly Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, in two abridged instalments from 9–16 March 1963 under the title The Mirror Crack'd with each issue containing a cover illustration by Gerry Sevier.
- The Observer, 11 November 1962 (p. 24).
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- The Guardian, 7 December 1962 (p. 9)
- The Observer, 11 November 1962 (p. 24)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (revised edition; pp. 196–97). Fontana Books: 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books, Self-Portrait, p. 101
- Osborne (2006), Chronicle Books, Leading Ladies, p. 195
- "Biography". The Official Web Site of Gene Tierney (cmgww.com). Retrieved 22 January 2008.