Hollywood glamour arrives in St. Mary Mead when actress Marina Gregg and her young English film director husband Jason Rudd take up residence. Curious locals gather at a reception hosted by the glamorous couple but Marina's happy new role as Lady of the Manor seems to be under threat when excitable fan Heather Badcock drinks a poisoned cocktail.
Miss Marple is intrigued to learn from her friend Dolly Bantry that while Marina listened to Heather's babbling she seemed distracted, staring at the staircase as various guests ascended with a look of doom upon her face. What was Marina really thinking?
Miss Marple and Inspector Hewitt unravel a host of secrets about the mysterious guests — an enigmatic young photographer, a Hollywood journalist who is Marina's ex-husband and a young American actress who is Jason's ex-lover. While Marina continues work on her new film, it seems the drama isn't over when Marina faces a new threat.
When another murder occurs within the walls of Marina's home even her adoring husband fears that Marina can no longer be protected from her fate, until Miss Marple realizes the truth behind Marina's look of doom.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Fading American film star Marina Gregg has bought Gossington Hall, the country house of Miss Marple's old friend Dolly Bantry. Marina is joined by husband number five, the dashing young director Jason Rudd.
Unfortunately, Miss Marple twists her ankle and is unable to attend Marina's charity garden party. However, the whole village is there, including Heather Badcock, who rescued Miss Marple after the ankle incident.
At the event, Marina and Jason receive their guests with royal flair. But then two party crashers arrive: Marina's ex-husband, Hollywood gossip columnist Vincent Hogg, and his new mistress, starlet Lola Brewster, who happens to be Jason's ex-lover.
As if in shock from this unpleasant surprise, Marina at first reacts with a frozen stare — just as she is being greeted by the unendurably chatty Heather. Seconds later, amid the commotion, Heather's daiquiri spills and Marina offers her the fresh one she has just picked up. Matters are not helped by the flashbulb-popping celebrity photographer Margot Bence. After Heather downs the drink, she promptly drops dead.
Later, in describing Marina's frozen demeanor to Miss Marple, Dolly quotes the Tennyson poem "The Lady of Shalott":
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.
Naturally, when Inspector Hewitt arrives to investigate, he calls first on Miss Marple, who considers Marina's stare to be a significant clue. Hewitt discounts this detail and begins working out who among Marina's resentful husbands, employees, colleagues, and hangers-on could have spiked the drink intended for her and accidentally consumed by Heather. The theory is later bolstered by an attempted poisoning of Marina while she is filming a movie.
Meanwhile, someone else is trying to smoke out the killer by anonymously calling several of the suspects and trying to blackmail them, hoping to land a lucrative catch. This technique succeeds only too well, since the blackmailer — Jason's personal assistant, Ella Blunt — is herself found poisoned.
Miss Marple eventually realizes that the key to the mystery lies in the past. Years before, Marina adopted two children before being able to conceive one of her own. To her anguish, that child was born with severe birth defects and was institutionalized. One of the adopted children, who is estranged from Marina and has not seen her for years, turns out to be Margot, the pushy photographer. She has returned to torment her mother, but not to the extent of homicide.
When Marina was approached by Heather at the party, Heather began breathlessly recounting another occasion on which they had met — at a charity event long before when Heather had been told by her doctor not to attend, but she put on makeup and went anyway. Her illness, she casually mentions to Marina, was German measles, which is problematic for a pregnant woman — which Marina then was. At that instant, Marina realizes why her child was born damaged: it was all the fault of this contagious fan!
The shocking news incites Marina's sudden frozen stare. Determined on swift revenge, she then disappears to doctor a daiquiri with sedatives and contrives to get it into Heather's hand. Marina later arranged another attempted poisoning of herself to allay suspicion.
As for Ella, her demise comes after she has heard from one of the servants about Marina's suspicious behavior at the party. Finally blackmailing the right person, Ella is silenced by lethal nose spray.
There is one last poisoning. On the night before Miss Marple announces her solution to the case, Marina takes an overdose of sedatives. Accident? Suicide? Murder? Hard to say.