4:50 from Paddington, by Agatha Christie, was first published in 1957. (It was also published in the USA as What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!.)
The first sentence is: “Mrs. McGillicuddy panted along the platform in the wake of the porter carrying her suitcases.”
Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy boards the 4:50 from Paddington, and takes her seat in the first-class compartment. Along the way, the train slows and another train pulls up beside it. Through the windows of the two trains, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a man strangling a woman. The woman falls down, apparently dead. Then the other train pulls on ahead.
Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the murder to the ticket inspector, who doesn’t believe her. Mrs. McGillicuddy must have fallen asleep, the ticket inspector concludes, and had a dream. He suggests that Mrs. McGillicuddy must be remembering some sensational book she might have read recently.
There is no doubt in Mrs. McGillicuddy’s mind that she witnessed a murder.
Mrs. McGillicuddy deboards at Milchester station, where a car takes her to the home of her good friend, Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple, of course, believes Mrs. McGillicuddy’s story.
The next morning, the newspaper arrives, but there is no mention of a murder. Miss Marple and Mrs. McGillicuddy go to the police station and speak with Sergeant Cornish. Miss Marple has a flawless reputation in town, as well as with the police, and is known for her sharpness and shrewdness. Sergeant Cornish launches a full inquiry.
Sergeant Cornish can find no evidence that a crime had taken place, or that a woman was injured on a train. He closes his investigation with: “I suggest that your friend may have witnessed a scene such as she described but that it was much less serious than she supposed.”
Miss Marple admits that Mrs. McGillicuddy may have been mistaken, but also admits that the police may have been wrong as well. The question remains: What did Mrs. McGillicuddy see? Miss Marple’s inquisitive mind refuses to let it go.
Miss Jane Marple is, in her own words, an old lady. She’s in good health for her age, but she is too old for adventures. So, she enlists her large network of friends and family to assist in the investigation.
At Miss Marple’s request, Miss Lucy Eyelesbarrow (professional domestic laborer with a Mathematics degree from Oxford) takes a post as housekeeper at Rutherford Hall – a likely spot, Miss Marple concludes, for a body to be thrown from a train. Lucy Eyelesbarrow’s assignment, besides cooking and cleaning, is to look for clues.
The book cover says this is “A Miss Marple Mystery”, and it is. But for several chapters, it is “A Miss Eyelesbarrow Mystery”. Ultimately, of course, it is Miss Marple who puts the clues together and solves the mystery.
At the beginning, I had a hunch what the solution was going to be, and I was prepared to be upset if my hunch was correct. But my hunch was wrong. It was very wrong. It was one of those solutions that seems to come out of nowhere, but once Miss Marple explains it, makes perfect sense.
4:50 from Paddington is a delight. It’s a solid, old-fashioned mystery, populated by proper old English ladies. I enjoyed it a lot.
Why I chose this book:
I didn’t know where I was going to go with this category. I did internet searches for book titles with vague times of day in them: “Night”, “Afternoon”, “Morning”, and so on.
I was thrilled when I found 4:50 from Paddington, a book title with an actual, specific time of day in it. It was a perfect fit. Plus, it was an Agatha Christie story. I put it on hold at the library right away.