An interesting set-up for this one – as a train overtakes another, a friend of Jane Marple spots, in the other train, a man strangling a woman. She reports it, but, being a little old lady, no-one believes her, especially when no body is found on the train or alongside the track.
The potential is there for something a little different, so it’s a shame that it quickly reverts to business as usual.
The body is found, not by the track, but hidden in a sarcophagus on an estate. Miss Marple has worked out where the body must have landed and persuaded an acquaintance to get a job with the family on the estate, and it is she who finds the body. Conveniently, the patriarch of the family has three sons and a son-in-law, all of whom fit the bill for the murderer, so the question becomes which of them did it?
Unfortunately, none of the characters rise above the stereotype – there’s the withdrawn daughter, the roguish son, the son who works in the city and so on. The patriarch is only a couple of rungs away from Father Jack Hackett on the evolutionary ladder. It’s perfectly fine, as Agatha Christie books go, but once the first few chapters are done, it’s nothing more than just fine.
There are a couple of plus points – the notion here, intimated for the first time, that Miss Marple is getting a bit too old for these adventures is mooted here, although it is forgotten about later, and having provided the list of suspects, there are at least three other potential suspects to choose from, rather than the usual one. The identity of the dead woman is kept secret for a good while too, although one twist here is rather unbelievable.
Sadly the motivation of the murderer is slight in the extreme, especially when he/she goes on a bit of a spree towards the end of the book.
In terms of fair play, there isn’t really anything in the way of clues, either. One or two off-hand comments hint at a possible connection, but there’s really no potential deduction here. The looniness of the motive does make the murderer more unguessable, to be honest.
Maybe I’m being harsh – there’s nothing really wrong with this book, it’s perfectly fine. It just feels like it was written on auto pilot.