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 (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.
The novel received good reviews on publication, for "the shrewd exposition of what makes a female film star tick", and being easy to read, though the plot was not as "taut" as some of Christie's novels. A later review found it "one of the best of her later books" and liked the way that "the changes in village life and class structure since the war are detailed".
While recovering from an illness, Jane Marple goes out for a walk in St. Mary Mead and takes a fall. She encounters Heather Badcock, who brings her to her home and relates a story of meeting American actress Marina Gregg, who has moved to England to star in a film about Elisabeth of Austria and purchased Gossington Hall from Marple's friend Dolly Bantry.
Gregg and her latest husband, producer Jason Rudd, host a fête at Gossington Hall in honor of St John Ambulance. Among the guests in attendance are Mrs. Bantry, actress Lola Brewster, Gregg's personal friend Ardwyck Fenn, and Heather Badcock and her husband Arthur. All five are invited to a private room to meet Marina and have their picture taken.
Upon meeting Gregg, Heather shares the story of meeting her in Bermuda and receiving her autograph, during which Mrs. Bantry notices a strange look cross Gregg's face. Mrs. Bantry then takes several other women to see the renovations made to the house only to be interrupted upon discovering Heather has collapsed without explanation. Despite all attempts to revive her, Heather is pronounced dead.
Mrs. Bantry informs Marple about the events surrounding the fête and the frozen look on Marina's face, comparing it to a phrase from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott. Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock spearheads the investigation, learning that Heather died as a result of ingesting six times the recommended dose of the tranquilizer Calmo. The drug had been slipped into a daiquiri that originally belonged to Gregg but was offered to Heather after someone jogged her arm and caused her to spill it.
Operating on the assumption that Gregg was the intended target, Craddock proceeds to delve into her complicated past. Desperate to have a child of her own, she married several times but was unable to conceive. She then adopted three children but became pregnant and gave birth to a mentally disabled son before suffering a nervous breakdown. One of the children, Margot Bence, is revealed to have been present at Gossington Hall on the day of the fête but she denies killing Gregg despite her hatred towards her adoptive mother.
As the investigation continues, two more people are killed over the course of twenty-four hours. Rudd's social secretary, Ella Zielinsky, dies first from cyanide poisoning after the atomizer she uses for her hay fever is tainted with prussic acid. Later that night, Gregg's butler, Giuseppe, is shot twice in the back in his bedroom after spending the day in London and depositing £500 into his bank account. Ardwyck Fenn informs Craddock he received a phone call several days before, accusing him of killing Heather, and he recognized the anonymous caller as Ella when she sneezed.
Marple's house cleaner, Cherry Baker, reveals her friend Gladys, who was a server at Gossington Hall on the day of the fête, told her she believes Heather deliberately spilled the cocktail and that she was going to meet Giuseppe before he died. After sending Gladys on a vacation to Bournemouth and phoning the vicar, she travels to Gossington Hall only to discover Gregg died in her sleep from an overdose.
With Craddock and Rudd present, Marple reconstructs the moment when Heather recounted the story of her meeting Gregg in Bermuda, ultimately revealing that Gregg was the murderer all along. Heather, who was suffering from German measles at the time, was indirectly responsible for Gregg's son being born disabled and for Gregg herself suffering a nervous breakdown. Overcome with rage, Gregg doctored her own daiquiri before making it so that Heather drank it. She then tried to convince everyone the poisoned drink was meant for her and killed Ella and Giuseppe after they deduced she was the killer. Marple sent Gladys away to protect her from becoming Gregg's next victim.
Marple then implies Rudd administered the overdose to protect her and to prevent her from taking another life. Rudd neither confirms nor denies her suspicions, instead commenting on his wife's beauty and the suffering she endured.
Explanation of the title
The title of the novel comes from the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The Lady of Shalott lives in a tower near Camelot, and sees it only reflected in a glass. She will be doomed if she looks directly; when Lancelot appears, she looks directly at him and the looking glass cracks. This poem is referred to by name several times in the novel, with these lines quoted:
- 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 in referring to the dead actress:
- He said, "She has a lovely face;
- God in his mercy lend her grace,
- The Lady of Shalott."
- Miss Marple: Detective of St Mary Mead, recovering from an illness.
- Mrs Cherry Baker: Young house cleaner for Miss Marple; she lives in the new development of duplex homes.
- Jim Baker: Husband of Cherry; he does repair tasks for Miss Marple.
- Miss Knight: Works as carer for Miss Marple, sent by Miss Marple's nephew Raymond West, while she is recuperating from an illness. She annoys Miss Marple constantly.
- Dolly Bantry: Friend of Miss Marple who is present at the reception at Gossington Hall. She first appeared in the novel The Body in the Library.
- Dr Haydock: Physician to Miss Marple in St Mary Mead. He first appeared in Murder at the Vicarage.
- Marina Gregg: Middle-aged film star, many times married, recently settled in England with her husband to make a new film. In her personal life, she swings from happy to upset, which her husband thinks is tied to her skill in acting. Her rage turns her into a murderer.
- Jason Rudd: Film director and husband of Marina Gregg; they are making a film in England.
- Giuseppe: Butler at Gossington Hall for Rudd and Gregg. He is the third victim, killed by gunshot.
- Dr Gilchrist: Physician to Marina Gregg, who lives at the Hall.
- Ella Zielinsky: Secretary to Mr Rudd. She is the next victim of poisoning.
- Gladys Dixon: Seamstress who lives in the new development, and works at the film studio's canteen. Miss Marple sends her to Bournemouth, to save her life, because of what she saw at the fete at Gossington Hall.
- Heather Badcock: Woman who lives in the development, kind to others but not thoughtful of their views; she is a volunteer in the St John Ambulance corps. She dies from poisoning at Gossington Hall.
- Arthur Badcock: Husband of Heather; he works in real estate. He changed his name from Alfred Beadle when he left America, where he was once briefly married to Marina Gregg, before she became a film star.
- Margot Bence: Portrait photographer at the event at Gossington Hall. In her childhood, she had been adopted by Marina Gregg for about four years, until Gregg became pregnant with her own child.
- Lola Brewster: American film actress who arrives by surprise at the party. She was the prior wife to one of Marina Gregg's past husbands, but they are on good terms since that time.
- Ardwyck Fenn: Arrived at the party at the same time as Lola Brewster, an American man who was once wildly in love with Marina Gregg. He is in the movie business.
- Dermot Craddock: Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, sent to St Mary Mead to resolve the case of the murder of Mrs Badcock. He was godson to Sir Henry Clithering, a close friend of Miss Marple, and discusses the case with her often. He was introduced in A Murder Is Announced.
- William Tiddler: Sergeant who assists Craddock; they call him Tom Tiddler from the children's game. He is at ease with the film actors.
- Frank Cornish: Inspector for St Mary Mead.
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."
Kirkus Reviews gave a short review, noting Miss Marple's complaints about the limits imposed on her by getting old, yet nothing stops her mind from working well. The novel is summed up by this upbeat remark: "It was her prying curiosity - her gift of putting odd bits together to form a picture that gave the locals and Scotland Yard the proper solution. Long life to her."
Robert Barnard, writing in 1990, said this novel was "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." He went on to remark that "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."
Developing the character of Marina Gregg
The real-life tragedy of the birth of the first child of American actress Gene Tierney and her husband Oleg Cassini appears to be the basis of one plot point for the movie star character, but not the murder plot, though Christie never said this about her novel. Tierney described her event in her autobiography, years after Christie wrote this novel; Tierney's story had been well publicised for years before this novel was written. The official website of Agatha Christie, suggests that Gene Tierney's experience influenced Christie in developing the movie star character in this novel. Tierney had not adopted children before the birth of her first child and Tierney bore a healthy daughter five years later, meaning that Christie did not copy Tierney's life in this novel.
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. Little Daria was born prematurely, weighing only 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and requiring a total blood transfusion. The infant was deaf, partially blind with cataracts, and severely developmentally disabled. The child ultimately was institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital.
About two years after the child was born, Tierney was approached by a female fan for an autograph at a garden party. The fan revealed that during WWII she had sneaked out of quarantine while sick with German measles to visit the Hollywood Canteen and meet Tierney. This incident, as well as the circumstances under which the information was imparted to the actress, is similar to the first pregnancy of Marina Gregg in the story.
- 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.
Film and television adaptations
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 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, Vincent Hogg (added in the adaptation.) He is a journalist, who writes a couple of pieces regarding the murders and who does not have much love of Marina; she is an actress and had competed with Marina for the love of Jason, who married the latter, leaving Lola bitter about it. Both she and Vincent 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.
- Richardson, Maurice (11 November 1962). "Review". The Observer. p. 24.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie; Foord, Peter; Williams, Richard (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1871122138.
- Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Golden Years: 1953 - 1967". Retrieved 31 July 2018.
- Iles, Frances (7 December 1962). "Review". The Guardian. p. 9.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. pp. 196–197. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, Review". Kirkus Reviews. September 20, 2011 [September 1, 1963]. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- "Book awards: Anthony Boucher's Best Crime Fiction of the Year, 1963". Library Thing. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- Tierney, Gene and; Herskowitz, Mickey (1978). Self-Portrait. Wyden Books. p. 101. ISBN 9780-883261521.
- Osborne, Robert (2006). Leading Ladies. Chronicle Books. p. 195. ISBN 9780-811852487.
- "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side: Did you know?". The Home of Agatha Christie. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
- Demaret, Kent (7 May 1979). "Gene Tierney Began Her Trip Back from Madness on a Ledge 14 Floors Above the Street". People. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
- "Biography". The Official Web Site of Gene Tierney. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2008.
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side at the official Agatha Christie website
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side at the new Home of Agatha Christie website
- The Mirror Crack'd (1980) on IMDb
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1992) on IMDb
- Marple: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (2010) on IMDb