Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

Classic Crime Fiction 5*s
Classic Crime Fiction
5*s

This post has been written as part of the wonderful The Agatha Christie Blogathon hosted by Little Bits of Classic and Christina Wehner The blogathon runs from September 16 – 18 to celebrate all things Agatha Christie marking her 126th birthday. A marvellous event thanks to these two wonderful bloggers.

I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s books, particularly those who star my favourite Belgium sleuth, Hercule Poirot, but I never took to Miss Marple when I initially read these books back in my teens, too many moons ago to count. Since then I haven’t been interested in seeing any of the TV adaptions of the books either and I couldn’t honestly tell you which ones I read before making up my mind that Miss Marple was someone to avoid.

It seems I’m not alone, Griselda Clement, wife of the vicar who narrates the story, says about her when she hears their neighbour is coming for tea

‘She is the worst cat in the village,’

Jane Marple is one of three cats in the village, but she is the nosiest by far; nothing happens it would seem without Miss Marple taking note and making judgement.

The village referred to is St. Mary Mead, a quintessential English village where afternoon tea is taken and maids are still de rigour. Of course the Vicar and his wife are right at the heart of things and although there has been some upset over missing donations in church and the like most of the villagers are unanimous in their dislike of Colonel Lucius Protheroe who holds the post of churchwarden and is one of the magistrates. The Colonel lives in Old Hall with his younger wife Anne Protheroe. Even the Vicar can’t disguise his intolerance of the man in front of his wife and nephew Dennis

I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most unbecoming to my cloth, that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service.

But of course duty is duty and afternoon tea is had

“What are you doing this afternoon, Griselda?” “My duty,” said Griselda. “My duty as the Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four thirty.”

The conversation touches on the merest hint of wrongdoing of those in the village, in cryptic and not so cryptic remarks including those of Colonel Portheroe

“I daresay idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it.”

The guests depart, Miss Marple goes back to tending her garden in the house next door to the vicarage. And then… Colonel Protheroe ends up being shot in the back in the Vicar’s own study. Fortunately our narrator is in the clear, having gone on a wild goose chase to see a sick parishioner shortly before the deed was done – even taking into account some mix up over the time of death owing to a note and a clock which was kept 15 minutes fast to aid punctuality. The accuracy of time of death puts our contemporary fictional doctors to shame, where no police doctor worth his salt would allow himself such a narrow time frame, even with much sucking in of breath and humming and harring! Inspector Slack is the local police officer and it seems like an open and shut case when one of the villagers owns up to the murder within a few pages. Of course that wouldn’t be a mystery story, so it is no surprise that he is quickly released. What is more surprising is that the Vicar gets drawn into the investigation,  and our Miss Marple who is on the fringes, aids mainly by disproving the latest theory rather than coming up with a credible one of her own, until much later, of course.

I’m not going to say much more about the plot itself, apart from to agree that once again, Agatha Christie was fair, we were all given the clues and so if, your powers of deduction are more like Inspector Slack’s than Miss Marple’s, then the solution will have outwitted you.

What I do want to talk about is the other characters who are all presented as fairly formulaic types: there is the silly young wife, the maid who is kept despite being rubbish so that no-one else will poach her, the serious vicar, the pompous policeman as well as the elderly spinster who has no life of her own so she spies on others. Christie’s critics often hone in on her lack of character progression but in this tale much of what is originally presented is actually subverted through the course of the book. Yes we don’t get a lot of back-story to any of these characters but by the end we have some understanding of who they are, especially Jane Marple. Yes, here is where I concur, she isn’t just some nosy old spinster with no life of her own, but a woman who has studied other people’s behaviour over many years giving her a huge advantage over the other villagers in trying to solve the seemingly impossible whodunit.

But best of all, The Murder in the Vicarage is full of wit, something that both surprised me and delighted me. I’m going to leave this review with some of Miss Marple’s own words, maybe ones that I didn’t agree with when I first met her as a callow teen, but now I applaud!

“She used to say: “The young people think the old people are fools, but the old people KNOW the young people are fools!”

I am converted, Miss Marple in her very first outing has me convinced that a fussy, nosy old spinster is an equal to the finickity Belgium with a fine moustache.

First Published UK: 1930
Publisher: Harper
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Classic Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

44 thoughts on “The Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

  1. Welcome to the Marple fan club. Good to know you have been won over…I was wondering how the minor characters would be represented. In the TV adaptation the vicars wife is rather inept at everything the wife of the era is supposed to be able to do. And the Proterozoic have an annoying daughter. Is that the case in thebook?

    1. Thank you – the vicars wife comes across as quite out of her depth in those areas in the book too but the book also brings out quite a mutually conducive relationship with her husband despite this, which I liked. Towards the end, we realise that Griselda is less ‘silly’ than she initially appears. The daughter is present, quite wrapped up in her own life and strongly dislikes the second Mrs Protheroe. I need to start watching the TV adaptions now!

  2. Hurrah! Hurrah!! I KNEW you’d like it!!! Great review – I love all the quotes. It’s the wit in Agatha Christie books that make them such a pleasure to read, but the plots are always strong too. I love this book because Miss Marple’s in it quite a lot, whereas sometimes she’s only in the background most of the time. The Moving Finger is like that – she’s barely in it till very late on, but it’s still my favourite Miss Marple book. Add it to your TBR this minute! 😉

    1. 🙂 You were right and it was hard reading this one to actually work out why I disliked her quite so much, I can only put it down to the fact that at the age I was I was simply too young to appreciate her – hence my final quote! I am going to take your recommendation and put it on the wishlist bearing in mind it is the big booksale here on the island next week so hopefully there will be a copy there – I can see the TBR reaching stratospheric heights now I’ve given her house room!

  3. I read a couple of books in my teens but was never hooked. My friend however is an absolute fan. I’m minded to try again, especially after visiting her Devon home Greenway yesterday and immersing myself in all things Agatha. Bizarrely there was even visiting Poirot – nothing to do with the NT but another unmissable visitor sporting a Homburg hat, cream overcoat, spats and the inevitable moustache!

  4. So glad you enjoyed this as well as you did, Cleo! I think you’ve hit on one of the things that makes this novel work. It’s not just a matter of the plotting; it’s a matter of getting an understanding of how the characters think and why they think that way. And what a great village setting, too. And yes, the wit is definitely there. Oh, and FF is right: The Moving Finger is great.

  5. When I read this book I thought it was ingenious, but Agatha Christie writing her Autobiography years later, wasn’t all that pleased with it. She thought it had too many characters and too many sub-plots; she is probably right. But I still like it – a lot! I’m not at all keen on the modernTV adaptions of the books but years ago (when I hadn’t read many of the books) I loved Joan Hickson as Miss Marple – I still see her in my mind’s eye when I read the book.

    1. It was the number of characters and sub-plots that had me enthralled – that bit with the suitcase *wink wink* was ingenious. Because I didn’t like the books I haven’t watched any of the TV adaptions but the Joan Hickson ones seem to get the all-round thumbs up!

  6. This is a really good review, Cleo, and I enjoyed reading it. I went through an Agatha Christie phase years ago (I expect most crime fans can say the same) and to be honest I didn’t think I’d ever want to read or reread her again. But you’ve made this sound like so much fun, you brought back some good reading memories…

  7. The quote from Miss Marple about how old people KNOW young people are fools had me laughing aloud. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! You highlight what is so special about Miss Marple – her wit, her perspicacity and her essential humanity in how she understanding people.

    So glad you could join us in celebrating Agatha Christie!

  8. I am so delighted that you have changed your mind about my beloved Miss Jane Marple!! Three cheers!! OK, so now we’ve really gotta talk. Here are my favorite Marple books – because, of course, you are waiting with bated breath for these, right? 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON (love it – love Lucy Eylesbarrow), SLEEPING MURDER (the last Marple book – has some creepy things in it), NEMESIS, which contains a couple of carryover characters from A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY. Also A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, THE MOVING FINGER…you know, this is almost all of them. Just read all of them, Cleo!!

  9. Because I’ve seen so many TV shows I feel like I know Christie but have to say I haven’t ever read her. I keep meaning to and your review reminds me I should – her stories sound so clever and fun to read.

  10. Hi, there!
    Recently I’ve just tried at reading Christie’s Poirot books (Murder on the Links and Death on the Nile) and I liked them so much that I didn’t know how to review them. And it seems that we have the same problem, at least as you did when you were young: I rather doubt to try at Miss Marple. But thanks to your review, now I know I should really try it! 🙂

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