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Literature / 4:50 from Paddington

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4:50 from Paddington (originally published in the United States as What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw!) is a 1957 novel by Agatha Christie.

Elspeth McGillicuddy is coming back from London, having done some Christmas shopping. While riding along in her first-class cabin, she happens to look over at a train on the next track, which is matching her train for speed. She is horrified to witness a man strangling a woman to death. No one will believe her, not the ticket taker she first tells, nor the police that she alerts. After all, no one found a body. So after she returns home to her village of St. Mary Mead, she tells a real expert on murder: Miss Jane Marple.

Miss Marple, unlike all the clueless men in law enforcement, takes her friend very seriously. She goes over the route and, given what Mrs. McGillicuddy told her, deduces that the murder must have taken place on a section of track near an estate called Rutherford Hall, where the killer would have had the chance to toss the body out of the window and down a steep embankment.

So she investigates. Miss Marple recruits one Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a sort of deluxe cook and domestic servant, and gets her a position at Rutherford Hall where she can act as Miss Marple's eyes and ears. Lucy finds an unconventional household at Rutherford Hall. There's Luther Crackenthorpe, the patriarch, a bitter old man who refuses to share any of his vast fortune with his children, and hopes to outlive them. There's Emma, Luther's maiden daughter who is stuck being his caretaker. Luther's sons are Alfred (petty criminal), Harold (affects the manner of an upper-class businessman, but is actually staring at financial ruin), and Cedric (the "black sheep" bohemian painter). Finally there's former RAF pilot Bryan Eastley, widower to Luther's late daughter Edith.

Lucy finds something else. Namely, she finds a body, hidden in a storage shed, the corpse of the woman strangled on the train. Who is she? Soon it's revealed that Luther Crackenthorpe had another son, Edmund, who was killed fighting the Germans in 1940, but not before sending a letter home announcing that he was going to marry a French girl named Martine Dubois. Did he marry Martine? Is the dead woman the late Martine Crackenthorpe, killed because she was coming back after all these years to claim a share of the family fortune for herself and a son?

Adapted into the film Murder, She Said in 1961.


  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Crackenthorpes can't stand each other. Luther's own father disliked him and left a provision in his will that Luther can't dispose of the family property. Harold is about to go bankrupt and Alfred is a petty criminal who has managed to avoid arrest. The sons are essentially waiting for Luther to die so they can sell the land off. When Alfred is murdered Cedric doesn't spend an instant grieving for him, instead immediately speculating how much money (a lot) he can make selling off the estate.
  • Black Sheep: These very words are used to describe Cedric, who instead of slotting into the life of the English uppercrust, went off and became an artist, living in Ibiza where he paints and frolics with Spanish women.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Part of Miss Marple's gotcha at the end is confronting Dr. Quimper with Elspeth, an eyewitness to the murder. She makes sure that Elspeth doesn't say that she never saw the killer's face. It works, as Quimper cracks and confesses.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Cedric, who has gone off to live the life of a painter on Ibiza, drinking beer and getting a tan. When Lucy is startled to hear Cedric getting giddy about inheriting the estate, he basically admits that he was only playing at being a bohemian, and now that he has the chance to get some money he's pretty excited about it.
    "Cedric was a big man with a weather-beaten rugged face, unkempt dark hair and a jocund manner. He had arrived from the airport unshaven, and though he had shaved in preparation for the inquest, he was still wearing the clothes in which he had arrived and which seemed to be the only ones he had; old grey flannel trousers, and a patched and rather threadbare baggy jacket. He looked the stage Bohemian to the life and proud of it."
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Alexander Eastley, who has a habit of calling his father "Bryan". In this case it's not so much a lack of respect as Alexander basically recognizing that his father is a nincompoop who "needs looking after".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Young Stoddart-West, Alexander Eastley's teenaged school friend, mentions that his mother is French. It turns out that his mom is the real Martine, Edmund Crackenthorpe's girlfriend from 1940.
  • Clueless Mystery: The reveal of Dr. Quimper as the murderer, and the fact that the dead lady was Quimper's estranged wife Anna who wouldn't give him a divorce, come completely out of nowhere, after an entire novel throwing suspicion on the members of the Crackenthorpe family. There is not even a hint that Quimper even had a wife before The Reveal.
  • Continuity Nod: Inspector Craddock makes another appearance, and mentions the "Little Paddocks business", which was Miss Marple novel A Murder Is Announced.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cedric gets off some good lines. When mean old Luther Crackenthorpe says that he doesn't celebrate his birthday and won't let anyone else, Cedric (who hates his dad as much as his dad hates him) says "Much cheaper. You save the price of candles on your cake."
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The murder takes place on December 20, which has nothing to do with the plot other than why Elsepth was on the train to begin with; she went to London for Christmas shopping.
  • Dirty Old Man: Luther Crackenthorpe, who shows Lucy all his gold coins and jewels, gets a little grabby, and offers to make her his Trophy Wife.
  • Disposing of a Body: The initial problem, as Miss Marple has to deduce how the killer got rid of a body after strangling a woman on the train. Eventually she figures out that he must have thrown the body from the train and gone back to retrieve it.
  • Divorce Requires Death: Dr. Quimper murdered his wife Anna because she wouldn't give him a divorce.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Gentle, affable, helpful Dr. Quimper is the killer. Turns out he's actually a sociopath who wanted to marry Emma Crackenthorpe and get the family fortune, and was willing to 1) kill his wife and 2) kill the male Crackenthorpes to get the whole fortune.
  • Funny Foreigner: Madame Joliet, the owner of the ballet troupe where Anna Stravinska worked. She says stuff like how she doesn't like police because "they make me the embarrassments."
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Miss Marple can't say "toilet" or any of the other words for the place where people pee and poo, so she has to content herself with telling Mrs. McGillicuddy to "go upstairs".
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • There's the Crackenthorpe family being described as not very gay, meaning that they're not big for parties and such. But even more painful is Miss Marple and people of her generation describing old ladies like her as "old pussies". This at least is recognized as something that is awkward to say even in 1957, as "Dermot Craddock paused for a moment to seek a synonym for 'old pussies'". He awkwardly lands on "elderly ladies."
    • There's also the repeated use of "Queer Street" to mean an uncomfortable or perilous situation, a jam.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Lucy Eyelesbarrow has made a career out of this trope. After carefully analyzing jobs that were understaffed and paid a good deal, she settled on "domestic help for hire" and mastered everything from nursing sick patients to scrubbing coal bins to chopping wood. Now Lucy is the best maid-of-all-work in England: nobles ask for her by name, and she can command any sum she wants because people know that she'll handle any issue that comes up.
  • Identifying the Body: This is a major part of the mystery, as the deceased is nobody who any of the Crackenthorpes has ever met. Eventually everyone comes to the assumption that the body is of Martine Crackenthorpe, the widow of the late Edmund, who lived in France. The body is actually Anna Stravinska - whose married name is Anna Quimper.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Luther Crackenthorpe's father (Josiah Crackenthorpe) considered him a disappointment, since he showed no interest in taking over the family business.
  • Info Dump: Mrs. Kidder, the Crackenthorpe maid, delivers a huge slab of exposition to Lucy in Chapter 4, going on for a few paragraphs in which she gossips about the Crackenthorpe children, where they are and what they do, and their lives and relationships.
  • Inheritance Murder: Everyone spends most of the book under the assumption that the victim is Luther's never before seen daughter-in-law by his late son, who was killed to keep her from claiming a piece of the Crackenthorpe estate on Luther's death on behalf of her child. While it technically really is an inheritance murder, the truth is more complicated: the already-married suitor of Emma Crackenthorpe offed his wife so he could remarry and thus get access to Emma's share of the estate.
  • It Gets Easier: Miss Marple anticipates further murders from the killer, saying "The one thing I do know about murderers is that they can never leave well alone. Or perhaps I should say—ill alone." Sure enough, there's Never One Murder.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Agatha Christie's habit of Never One Murder is discussed by the characters in this book, when Alexander, talking to Lucy, mentions it. Lucy is not impressed. Sure enough, a couple more characters are offed towards the end.
    "Rolling! Jolly nice, too. All the same, I rather wish we weren’t leaving here. Another body might turn up."
    "I sincerely hope not."
    "Well, it often does in books. I mean somebody who’s seen something or heard something gets done in, too. It might be you," he added, unrolling a second chocolate bar.
    "Thank you!"
  • The Lestrade: Inspector Craddock from Scotland Yard, who respects Miss Marple but is depressed about his own inability to figure out the solution.
  • Money, Dear Boy: This is described In-Universe as Lucy's motivation for becoming a maid-of-all-work despite excelling in her studies at Oxford: "She also, quite frankly, liked money." Since academic careers don't pay well and rich people do, she becomes a domestic helper for hire and makes an absolute fortune.
  • Never One Murder: Lampshaded when young Alexander Eastley (Luther's only living grandchild) notes that in murder stories there's often another murder later in the story to keep the plot going. Sure enough both Alfred and Harold are murdered after this.
  • Old Maid: The brothers describe Emma as this. Miss Marple, herself an old maid, recognizes how the brothers and Luther exploit her for unpaid labor, and suspects that Emma will in fact go off and get married when her father finally kicks the bucket.
  • Old Retainer: Hillman, the ancient gardener on the Crackenthorpe estate, who is said to basically pretend to work.
  • Parental Substitute: It turns out that Alexander, Bryan's teenaged son, is sort of a substitute parent to his own dad.
    Alexander: It's a great pity Mum died when she did. Bryan needs a proper home life.
  • Phone-In Detective: As with many of the Miss Marple stories, Miss Marple the old lady does not do the legwork herself. Instead she arranges for Lucy to get a job as housekeeper for the Crackenthorpes, so it's Lucy that finds the body as well as finds out a lot of info from the members of the family.
  • "Rear Window" Witness: The plot of is kicked off when a character on a train witnesses a murder happening on another train on a parallel track.
  • The Scrooge: Luther refuses to spend any money if he can avoid it. This has caused Rutherford Hall to fall in disrepair, since he refuses to hire adequate help and repair any dilapidated parts of the estate.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: The Crackenthorpes receive a letter from Martine, who says that she and Edmund did in fact get married shortly before he was killed, and before he was killed he impregnated her, with a son who would stand to inherit the Crackenthorpe mansion and (very valuable) land. It turns out to be a hoax.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: This is oddly invoked —oddly because it's the woman herself who invokes it. Main character Lucy Eyelesbarrow is an intelligent young woman in her early thirties who attended Oxford University and excelled in mathematics, which might have led to a promising career in science. However, she realizes that academic jobs don't pay well; as she freely admits to liking money, she decides to go into the field of domestic service instead. The trope is then downplayed, as Lucy is able to make a fortune off of her work as a housekeeper/nursemaid/odd-job holder: British nobles pay highly for her services, she refuses to settle in a single home (despite being offered small fortunes to do so) because she likes making her own schedules, and she even takes luxurious vacations whenever she pleases.
  • Stealing from the Till: Alfred was in the Ministry of Supply during World War II, and was apparently involved in the black market sale of various foodstuffs, although he managed to avoid getting busted.
  • The Summation: As usual with Miss Marple mysteries, at the end Miss Marple explains how and why the murder was done.
  • Title Drop: The "4:50 from Paddington" is the train that Elspeth took, that she and Miss Marple take again as Miss Marple tries to get a feel for what happened.
  • Tontine: Sort of. Miss Marple uses this word to describe Luther Crackenthorpe's will, in which Luther's fortune is divided up equally among his family members, with the share to each increasing if anyone predeceases Luther. But it isn't a formal tontine, in which the signatories agree in advance.