Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

Where are they now?

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When old Mrs McGinty is brutally killed in her own parlour, suspicion quickly falls on her lodger, the rather unprepossessing James Bentley. All the evidence points in his direction, and he is duly charged, tried and convicted. But somehow it doesn’t feel right to Superintendent Spence. He’s met many murderers in his long career and Bentley doesn’t seem to him to fit the profile. With the police case closed, he takes his concerns to his old friend Hercule Poirot, asking him to investigate with a view to either turning up evidence that will clear Bentley or alternatively finding something that will reassure Spence the right man has been convicted. But Poirot must hurry, before Bentley goes to the gallows…

This is yet another great mystery from the supremely talented Ms Christie. First published in 1952, she was still at the height of her formidable plotting powers and had that ease and occasional playfulness in her style that always makes her books such a pleasure to read. I’ve always loved the books in which Ariadne Oliver appears – Christie uses this mystery-writing friend of Poirot to provide a humorous and delightfully self-deprecating insight into the life of the detective novelist, and Ariadne’s love/hate relationship with her Finnish recurring detective must surely be based on Christie’s own frustrations with her Belgian one…

“How do I know?” said Mrs. Oliver crossly. “How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all the idiotic mannerisms he’s got? These things just happen. You try something – and people seem to like it – and then you go on – and before you know where you are, you’ve got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond of him? If I met that bony gangling vegetable eating Finn in real life, I’d do a better murder than any I’ve ever invented.”

One of Ariadne’s books is being adapted for the stage by a young playwright, Robin Upward, who lives in the village where Mrs McGinty’s murder took place. So Poirot seeks her help to get an inside look at the villagers – her erratic intuition usually leads her to the wrong conclusions, but Poirot often finds her insight into how people behave when they don’t realise they’re being observed of great help to him. It’s also an opportunity to see how Christie may have felt herself about the frustrations of seeing other people adapt her work…

“But you’ve no idea of the agony of having your characters taken and made to say things that they never would have said, and do things that they never would have done. And if you protest, all they say is that it’s ‘good theatre.’ That’s all Robin Upward thinks of. Everyone says he’s very clever. If he’s so clever I don’t see why he doesn’t write a play of his own and leave my poor unfortunate Finn alone. He’s not even a Finn any longer. He’s become a member of the Norwegian Resistance movement.”

Poirot’s accommodation provides a good deal of humour in this one too. He must stay in the village, so boards with the Summerhayes – a couple with little experience of providing for paying guests and less talent. Maureen Summerhayes is delightful but scatterbrained, and her untidiness and lack of organisation drive the obsessively neat Poirot to distraction, while her less than mediocre cooking skills leave him longing for a well-cooked meal and a decent cup of coffee.

Following a clue missed by the police, Poirot soon begins to suspect that the motive for the murder lies in the past. He discovers a newspaper cutting in Mrs McGinty’s effects relating to four old murders with photos of the murderers, under the heading “Where are they now?” Poirot thinks that one at least of them may be living in the village complete with a new name and persona. But which? The recent war has destroyed many records, allowing people with shady pasts to reinvent themselves with reasonable safety from discovery. But as word of Poirot’s investigation spreads, it seems as if someone is getting nervous, and nervous murderers take risks…

Agatha Christie

I enjoyed this one thoroughly. I’d read it before long ago and pretty soon remembered whodunit but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. It allowed me instead to look out for the clues as they happened, so I can say that this is a fair-play one – all the clues are there and they’re often quite easy to spot, but much more difficult to interpret correctly. Great fun, and as always Hugh Fraser’s narration is excellent, bringing out all the humour and warmth in the stories. Highly recommended!

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47 thoughts on “Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

  1. Ah, this has always been one of my top Christies, FictionFan. It was actually the first of her books that I read, so I have a special place for it. Like you, I love the presence of Ariadne Oliver, and I thought the scenes with her and Robin Upward were masterfully done. Christie alluded to this one (very briefly) in Hallowee’en Party, so she must have liked it too! And with Hugh Fraser narrating, well…

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    • I can’t remember which was my first – Death on the Nile, perhaps. Yes, I thought the clue-dropping in this one was very good, and Ariadne Oliver always adds to the enjoyment – I wish she had appeared more often. The narrations are just great – I’m loving revisiting the books this way. And the more I read of Golden Age detective fiction, the more I can appreciate just how far ahead of the pack Christie really was. No wonder she has never dipped out of the bestsellers lists in all these years… 😀

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    • She really is the mistress of plotting, isn’t she? It’s one of the reasons she’s so re-readable – even if you remember whodunit, it’s so much fun seeing how cleverly she disguises the clues… 😀

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  2. I think this is possibly one of her most entertaining ones. All that stuff about the guest house was priceless, and Mrs. Oliver is such a great character. I remember getting the main clue for this one quite quickly, but I related it to completely the wrong person.
    Hugh Fraser is among my favorite narrators. David Suchet did a few of these too, and he is also a very good voice actor, as well as being an excellent Poirot of course.

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    • Since I’ve been on this recent re-reading kick, or re-listening really since it’s Hugh Fraser who’s inspired me, I’ve noticed how much humour there is in a lot of the books. But especially in the Ariadne Oliver ones – she’s such a great character. I never get the clues – I think I’m too careless a reader. But that’s one of the reasons I find her so re-readable – even if I remember whodunit, I can have the fun of spotting how cleverly she disguises the clues. I’ve only heard one of the Suchet narrations – Murder on the Orient Express. It’s not my favourite of her novels, but he had so much fun with all the different foreign accents and personalities that he made it great fun! I must look out for more of his versions. Derek Jacobi is probably my favourite narrator of all – I love his version of the Holmes stories, and his Frankenstein is simply brilliant.

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  3. It’s been a long time since I read or listened to this one. Great review and I also am a big fan of Ariadne Oliver. Love the quotes. I’ve been listening to Death in the Clouds, also narrated by Hugh Fraser. It’s one of my favorites and I can just sail along, even though I know the story so well. That’s not the point. These are ‘comfort’ reads for me – saved for when life is stressful. I think I will listen to Cards On the Table next.

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    • I hadn’t revisited this one for ages either and it really is well worth re-reading! I love the Ariadne Oliver books – just wish there were more of them. Death in the Clouds is another one I haven’t read in years – she wrote so many! Must look out for it. Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about them too – in fact, knowing them well makes listening very relaxed because it doesn’t matter if my attention wanders occasionally. I love Cards on the Table… 😀

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  4. I remember laughing out loud when I read Ariadne Oliver complaining about her Finnish detective and thinking I was very clever for realising that Agatha Christie was making fun of herself and Hercule Poirot, but I can’t remember who did it! Time for a re-read 🙂

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  5. I completely agree with your review! It was very enjoyable to have Ariadne Oliver and Poirot together, they are such different characters and their interactions are always fun. I am sure you are right about Ariadne’s relationship with her Finnish detective mirroring Christie’s relationship with Poirot. I seem to remember, Christie wanted to get rid of Poirot because she wasn’t particularly fond of him anymore, but the readers just wouldn’t let her.

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    • Haha – yes, like poor old Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes! I was just listening to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which is a very early one and yet even in that Christie had “retired” him to the country to grow vegetable marrows. Little did she know he still had decades of career ahead of him! I do love Ariadne Oliver – I wish she’d been in more of the books. 😀

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  6. So although I believe it’s dangerous to interpret a character’s musings as the true feelings of the author, I can’t help but do it myself, in fact, I did it just recently when discussing Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. Although, I wasn’t the first reviewer to do it, and I for sure will not be the last…haha

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    • Ha! I like trying to work out if it’s the author’s or the character’s view I’m getting, although sometimes it can put me off an author when the character is obnoxious and it’s not clear whether the author shares the character’s opinions. But Ariadne is a delight, and I’m sure Agatha knew exactly what she was doing… 😀

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  7. This sounds brilliant – It sort of sounds familiar and I can sort of picture David Suchet being driven mad by a untidy house, so I think I’ve seen the ITV series’ version of this, probably many moods ago! However I can’t recall who the murderer was, therefore if I ever get round to reading it, the end won’t be spoiled for me. 😀

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  8. I’m so behind with my crime reading, here’s another one I haven’t read and it sounds great. For some reason I’ve never read the ones with Ariadne but will do, another one on the list!

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    • I think she only appears in three or four of them and I can never remember which ones, but I’m always delighted when she pops up! I’m sure you’ll like her when you get to meet her… 😀

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  9. The (few) Agatha Christie books I’ve read haven’t worked as well for me as they do for you. (And it’s been a while, so I can’t remember enough to explain why.) However, this one, with the audio narration, is one I’d like to try. I could only find a CD version in the library, which doesn’t work for mobile listening, however, there’s a full recording online at archive.org. I’ve been accessing audio books through the library quite a bit recently and have been enjoying this medium (though I always check out the narrator before I borrow a book). On your recommendation, I look forward to listening to Mrs McGinty’s Dead with Hugh Fraser.

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    • She was so prolific and her quality could be quite variable over her long career. The books at the very beginning of her career often aren’t so polished, and she went on for years too long – the later ones can be really quite poor. The reason she always gets five stars from me is because I really only revisit the ones I love. Her sweet spot is between about 1930 and 1960, I think, though there are some outliers before and after. Finding the Hugh Fraser narrations has been a joy for me – he really is perfect for them and has given the ones I’ve read again and again a whole new lease of life for me. I do hope you enjoy this one! 😀

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