1 July 2021

Review: MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, Agatha Christie

  • This edition a kindle e-book (Amazon)
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0046H95N6
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • First published 1930
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 305 pages
  • #1 in the Miss Marple series

Synopsis  (Amazon)

Agatha Christie’s first ever Miss Marple mystery, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.

’Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a service!’

It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later. From seven potential murderers, Miss Marple must seek out the suspect who has both motive and opportunity.

My take

This is the first time I have read this title in 12 years and I was a little surprised at how much I have forgotten or perhaps mis-remembered. I think my memory is a little clouded by the fact that I have probably seen about 3 television versions of the story in that time, and each one of those has tampered with or embellished the story.

This is the first Miss Marple novel although she had been introduced to readers in short story in 1927. Basically she is an elderly spinster living in St. Mary Mead, with apparently little experience of life outside the village. She has already figured in solving small village mysteries in the past, but the Vicar and his wife both regard her as a busy body, although more astute than most.

Colonel Protheroe, an extremely unpleasant and unpopular character,  is found murdered in the same vicar's study, and two different people confess to the crime. The investigation is handed locally to Inspector Slack, who has a great belief in fingerprints, and expects to be able to solve the murder quickly and easily. There are a number of red herrings. At firts Miss Marple who lives next door to the Vicarage doesn't seem to take much part in the novel, but then she seems to hover in the background.

The novel really sets a pattern for what we can expect in future novels and there are a range of characters who will crop up again in the future.

The vicar and his wife, Leonard and Griselda Clement respectively, who made their first appearance in this novel, continue to show up in Miss Marple stories: notably, in The Body in the Library (1942) and 4.50 from Paddington (1957)  

The Chief Constable, Colonel Melchett becomes involved, as does Sir Henry Clithering, a friend of Miss Marple's and a former head of Scotland Yard. He will feature in a number of Miss Marple stories. We are also introduced to Raymond West, Miss Marple's nephew, who is an author and will also feature in a number of future plots.

Agatha Christie uses the narrator device which she relied on so much in the Poirot novels. we see the story through the eyes of the vicar Leonard Clement. However it is really us seeing things as the vicar does, hearing conversations he is part of, and so on, rather than the impression of a written journal.

The other thing I have noticed in this novel is that Christie uses numbered chapters, without giving each chapter a number and a title as she did in the Poirot novels.

There are still references to the impact of the first world war on English society.

There are a number of side-plots which flesh out the setting: among them the parentage of Lettice Protheroe, and a love interest in the marriage of Leonard and Griselda Clement, the vicar and his wife.

My rating: 4.5

My original review in 2009 (I gave it 4.7)

The Agatha Christie Novels

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