A Christie for Christmas: 4.50 From Paddington

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

published 1957


I didn’t at all think of 4.50 From Paddington as a Christmas Christie, but actually the venerable Mrs McGillicuddy, she who witnesses the murder in the memorable setup, has been Christmas shopping in her ‘masculine-looking pepper-and-salt tweed coat’. 

And has bought also an ‘evening coatee, just the thing she herself needed, warm but dressy.’ Very much needed for the country house Christmas in Cyril Hare’s An English Murder – our Christmas Eve entry looked the need for long sleeves when the dining-room was cold.

The main subsequent action takes place in January, it seems, though it is not really clear why the two schoolboys are on holiday for quite such a long time. But there is much discussion (if not description), of the Christmas family get-together which took place between these two sections – the reason no-one has an alibi.

In my recent post on Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, I said that I think of that book every time I am on a European train sliding out of a major city. It is equally true that every time I am on a train that briefly pulls parallel with another going the same way, I think of this book and expect to see a murder. (Hasn’t happened yet.) A very memorable opening.

The other aspect we all remember is Lucy Eyelesbarrow, the wonderful housekeeper who becomes Miss Marple’s eyes and ears in the house of the miserable Crackenthorpe family. She has a similar role to Mary Dove in A Pocket Full of Rye (in some respects, by no means all…): the wonderful organizer who makes good money sorting families and houses out.

This trope popped up in an Anthony Gilbert book too, and I said in my post:

There is also the frequent post-War idea that being in domestic service was going to be a splendid fate: ‘plummy jobs – home helps practically rule the roost.’ Again, it’s not clear if Gilbert thinks this, but the trope in books is always from people who will never have to do it themselves. (eg in Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington: Lucy Eyelesbarrow is quite splendid and we all love her, but still the whole thing is a fairy-tale, surely.)

But indeed Lucy is a much-loved character, and surely is the one readers most wish Christie had used again. There is also endless fascination in wondering whether she married any of the characters from the book. She needs her golf club to fight off all the marriage proposals, actual and implied, and I cannot say without spoilering whom she is believed to end up with (so many potential victims and culprits, as well as policemen). For this and many other aspects of the book, I strongly recommend a recent post by my friend Brad over at his Ah Sweet Mystery blog, but only if you have read the book – he doesn’t hold back on spoilers. He does have nuanced info from Agatha Christie’s Notebooks, via John Curran, and in general gives the plot, and detection, and romance, a thorough going-over.

It's quite a while since I had read this one, and I enjoyed it very much.

The details of Lucy running the house are weirdly fascinating, and it is also very funny at times. I liked the two schoolboys who are very keen to see the body of a murdered woman, claiming they may be able to help with identification. The policeman asks the apparently absurd question:

‘Have you ever seen a blonde woman wearing a light-coloured dyed squirrel coat anywhere about the place?’

‘Well, I can’t remember exactly,’ said Alexander astutely. ‘If I were 

to have a look - ’

The excellent outcome is that the policeman lets them take a look at the corpse, purely on the grounds that ‘one’s only young once’.

I remembered many key items, but could not for £100 have told you how the Martine line of detection was going to pan out – that was a huge surprise. But I do have to agree with the most usual complaint about the book: such marvellous, strong detection and sleuthing throughout, Miss Marple and Lucy so busy and so very much on the ball – but a complete lack of proper clues to the ultimate solution, and really no reason at all for Miss Marple to come to the conclusions she reaches. It is quite shocking, very disappointing, and not the way Christie usually operates.

With her unlikely-person solutions you can usually then think ‘Oh I see – that’s what was happening, now I see the relevance of…’ but I did not get that at all here, it just apparently came from nowhere. Brad has some defence of this aspect in his post, and again has helpful info from the AC Notebooks – she may have only chosen the murderer late on – but I felt she could have done better. I like a plot and a murderer where it is baked in for the whole book, where the final denoument shows nothing else was possible. The family dynamics in this book are similar to those in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and A Pocket Full of Rye, but the solution here is nothing like as good in terms of reader satisfaction.

Minor points of interest:

-it is clear that the train where the murder took place was one ‘without a corridor’ – these are difficult to imagine now but were very much a thing: each small carriage was completely sealed off from the rest of the train: you could only get in or out at a station. (there is a splendid character in a Patricia Wentworth book who is bothered by this:  ‘Although this local train stopped much too frequently to give a lunatic any real scope, Miss Nellie preferred to be on the safe side’ we are meant to smile gently at her, but really it does not sound a safe arrangement at all, even if you are not travelling with a murderer)

-Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond West is shown to have at least two sons, a family branch we don’t hear about much

-one woman is ‘sensibly dressed in tweeds and pullover’. Another is ‘tall and elegant and attractive’. I’ll leave you to guess which picture I assigned to which.

-one of the schoolboys says ‘Good-oh’ and this is seen as an Australian turn of phrase

-Lucy cooks chips for dinner, which somehow surprised me

-a convalescent woman, sitting up in bed receiving a visitor, wears a ‘soft pink shawl’ round her shoulders. All very nice, but here at CiB we say ‘Where’s her bedjacket?’ (see here for a recent entry featuring a suitable one)


All in all, a most enjoyable read, slightly let down by the ending. In the top tranche of Marples in my ranking. 


Train picture is the Dublin boat train in 1959, on Christmas Day, from National Library ofIreland.

 Dressed for Snow. Picture from the Tyne and Wear archives.

The blonde potential victim is actually American comedienne Phyllis Diller. 








  1. So glad to see this here, Moira! I've always found Lucy Eyelesbarrow to be a delightful character. I really wish Christie had brought her back. And it may be just me, but I've also always liked the way the truth is revealed in this novel; it's so clever, I think.

    1. Thanks Margot, and it's hard to imagine anyone not taking to Lucy, even apart from wishing she could sort out our lives for us: she is, as you say, delightful.

  2. Ah Lucy ... don't we all need a Lucy? Haven't read this one for a while, so thank you for reminding me. It is really a great opening, and yes, I think of it when I have a glimpse into a parallel train. I have always felt worried by those corridorless trains. Probably young women weren't supposed to be travelling on their own in the early days of the railway. Chrissie x

    1. Yes, if Christie had been a different kind of writer she could have done a series of Lucy E sorting everyone's life out.
      I travelled on those trains as a young woman, they must have been the last few left, and although it was only short journeys, and frequent stops, it was quite concerning then. You did pick carefuly - but then anyone might get in...

  3. "Although this local train stopped much too frequently to give a lunatic any real scope, Miss Nellie preferred to be on the safe side"
    I don't know if Christie knew of the case, but Valentine Baker, brother of Sir Samuel, the explorer, was convicted of indecent assault in a corridorless carriage. It was after that corridors were introduced. I think there were several murders in closed carriages as well - most notably, in 1864, Franz Müller's murder of Thomas Briggs.

    1. The romance and the glamour of trains, hey?
      There's a quote about 'trying to take the glamour out of war', with someone replying 'you might as well attempt to take the glamour out of sex.' I've always felt you could add smoking and trains to the list. (Michael Herr, Dispatches, is where I came across it, but not sure if it was original to him)


    2. The history of train carriages is curious - in England, a series of closed compartments, as if they'd used stagecoaches as models (what shape were the first passenger carriages?) and in the USA (going by westerns) open plan spaces, like cafes or saloons. What shape were carriages in the rest of the world?
      Looking further, there were several murders in closed carriages in the nineteenth century and a pornographic novel, Raped in a Railway Carriage. Whether that inspired Baker or was inspired by him I don't know. There might be something on clothes in it, even if they are rapidly discarded....

    3. Mmmm, probably not going to be doing that any time soon! But questions about design of spaces are fascinating. Years ago I read an article in the Economist which said that car design was based on horse-and-carriages, and if you were starting from scratch you wouldn't make them as they are at all, there would be better arrangements. (Can't remember what they were, but was much struck by the idea)

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Attempts to post picture failed! Search motor hansom cab in Images and you'll find it.

    6. No, with blogger you get what you pay for in terms of fancy notions such as commenters being able to post pictures. This is as far as we get: 😊
      I have greatly enjoyed gawping at a page of pictures of motor hansom cabs.

  4. Oh indeed, Lucy was a criminally underused character from the Christieverse. And her apparent fate at the end of the book was just another example of Dame Agatha seeming to think she had to end every mystery with a pairing off of clever, self-sufficient woman to men who are at best undeserving, and at worst practitioners of misogynist violence. (See also The Sittaford Mystery and The Mystery of the Blue Train. Oh, and Taken at the Flood.)

    Anyway, here's my take on how it should end...http://dalyght.ca/fileshare/miss_marples_advice.jpg

    1. Oh that's brilliant, thank you for sharing. Quite right.
      When I first read it, as a teenager, I was outraged by the lack of certainty about Lucy's marital fate. Now I am much more admiring. It was interesting reading the reported comments from her notebooks. It was obviousy deliberately left uncertain?

    2. I was actually shocked when I read of Lucy's "real" choice. And disappointed in her supposed good sense and clear-eyed-ness. I'd add Pocketful of Rye to the list of books pairing nice women with men who don't deserve them.

    3. Yes, hard agree with all that. I was terribly surprised when I read that. Had always assumed someone quite different...

  5. Christie's cynical depiction of how her characters are thrilled by murders and (especially) sex crimes are always amusing.

    1. Hah! Absolutely - I am just writing a future post on another book, and say 'One of Christie’s under-the-radar abilities is that she is always very good on gossip, and the questions that pop into people’s heads' - my favourite example is in Mrs McGinty's Dead ‘She had certainly been unfortunate in her husband. His peculiar practices [were] referred to in such a guarded way as to rouse instant curiosity…’


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