Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie

Advent Calendar Day 4 Orphans and Care Experiencein fiction: Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie

Mrs McGinty is Dead by Agatha Christie (1952)

An old widow is brutally killed in the parlour of her cottage…

‘Mrs McGinty’s dead!’
‘How did she die?’
‘Down on one knee, just like I!’

The old children’s game seemed rather tasteless. The real Mrs McGinty was killed by a crushing blow to the back of the head and her pitifully small savings were stolen. Suspicion falls immediately on her lodger, hard up and out of a job. Poirot, disillusioned by the “senseless cruel brutality” of modern crime, pays no attention to the sad case of Mrs McGinty, an old woman apparently struck dead by her lodger for thirty pounds that she kept under a floorboard. When, however, he is asked by the investigating officer to take another look at the case to stop an innocent man going to the gallows, he realises that things may not be as simple as they first appear to be – unaware that his own life is now in great danger…

Agatha Christie’s mother was adopted, and according to her autobiography, never got over it. Agatha’s grandfather died young and her maternal grandmother was 27, poor and left to look after four small children. Her elder sister had recently married a well-off American, and offered to adopt one of the children. Agatha’s grandmother chose to send Clara (from An Autobiography, pp 15-16):

Not obvious on first reading but there is a very interesting conversation between one of the minor characters, Maureen Summerhayes and Poirot. Maureen Summerhayes is the landlady of the dilapidated guesthouse Long Meadows in Broadhinny who is married to Major Johnnie Summerhayes. She was adopted. Mrs McGinty was her cleaner, and went to Long Meadows twice a week–on Mondays and on Thursdays. Maureen mentions a newspaper article about how adoption gave a child advantages. She says, ‘I was an adopted child. My mother parted with me and I had every advantage, as they call it. And it’s always hurt – always – always – to know that you weren’t really wanted, that your mother could let you go.’

In Agatha Christie’s autobiography there is a mirror conversation and she describes how her mother had all the so-called advantages of a comfortable home and a good education – what she lost and what nothing could replace was the carefree life with her brothers in her own home. Christie goes on to say: ‘Quite often I have seen in correspondence columns inquiries from anxious parents asking if they ought to let a child go to others because of the ‘advantages she will have which I cannot provide – such as a first class education’. I always long to cry out: Don’t let the child go. Her own home, her own people, love, and the security of belonging – what does the best education in the world mean against that?…the feeling always remained of ‘not being wanted’. I think she [Clara, Agatha’s mother] held it against my grandmother until her dying day.

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