After a short hiatus from the exciting world of book blogging, I’ve triumphantly returned in order to extoll the virtues of this really fun mystery. Published in 1930, Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage is the first in her Miss Marple series and should definitely rank among her finest novels. From the over-the-top characters to the plot to the tone, this one is a very immersive and addicting read. Once said murder occurs, the pacing moves to perfection right up to the reveal. I had an idea as to the identity of the culprit and was pleased to discover I was right! Perhaps reading all those other Agatha Christie books has honed my sleuthing skills. Most likely, it was just a fortunate guess. These stories tend to get a bit convoluted, but I can report that wasn’t the case this time. While this one will never be as popular as Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express, this little mystery is pure unadulterated fun.
I found Miss Marple to be one of Christie’s most fascinating creations. While she doesn’t appear often in the novel, every appearance carries a massive amount of weight, as she certainly knows more than she is letting on. Initially described as “a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner,” we soon discover just how brilliant a mind she has in the study of human nature. While not possessing any extraordinary skills, her understanding of psychology is pure genius.
“You see, living alone, as I do, in a rather out-of-the-way part of the world, one has to have a hobby. There is, of course, woolwork, and Guides, and Welfare, and sketching, but my hobby is-and always has been-Human Nature. So varied-and so very fascinating. And, of course, in a small village, with nothing to distract one, one has such ample opportunity to become proficient in one’s study.”
The protagonist/narrator is the Vicar of St. Mary Mead, a small village where gossip is the primary form of entertainment. Growing up in a small town, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of busybodies who kept their eyes open and their tongues always moving. Fortunately, all this spying behind the curtain is helpful to the Vicar and the detectives as they attempt to solve the crime. For such a small village, there is quite a lot of scandal, which makes the perfect fuel for a murder. The victim, Colonel Protheroe, is not very well liked, and as even the Vicar himself points out, the killer “would be doing the world a large favor!” I found the Vicar to be a likeable enough character with an open mind. As this murder occurred within his home, he has his own personal stake in the matter. Additionally, he is struggling with his own suspicions towards his much younger wife who might be having an affair with another of the suspects. Nothing like a murder to bring some much needed excitement, as the Vicar’s nephew Dennis is quite keen on solving the crime himself. I appreciated how both young and old were represented through the characters of Dennis and Miss Marple.
While each one has different methods of investigation, Miss Marple is clearly the more dedicated of the two (Dennis is slightly distracted by Protheroe’s beautiful daughter). There are conflicting pieces of evidence: a clock that doesn’t tell the right time, a note that couldn’t have been written when it says it was, and a possible gunshot heard in the woods, but not where the murder took place. Another bit of confusion occurs early in the investigation with two separate confessions. And, since the colonel was disliked by so many, there are a ton of suspects. There’s the Colonel’s current wife, who is having an affair with a young artist. There’s his daughter, Lettice, who doesn’t like the way her father treats her. Perhaps it could be the mysterious Mrs. Lestrange, a true stranger to the area, who paid a call on the colonel one evening when his wife was not home.
Miss Marple shares an extraordinary ability with another of Christie’s creations, Hercule Poirot, in that she can be quite infuriating at holding onto information that comes into play later. While not quite as boastful as my favorite Belgian detective, she clearly has some magnificent little grey cells herself. In many ways, she reminded me of my favorite television detective from my childhood, the great Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. I suppose I’m dating myself a little now.
Another aspect of this novel, one that I’ve discovered in several of Christie’s works by this point, is how much humor there is to be found. Several scenes of this story had me laughing out loud. We always talk about how brilliant she was at crafting mysteries, but she has quite the sharp wit. As usual, there are plenty of red herrings thrown around to distract the reader, but I was pleased at how everything came together cleanly in the end.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Agatha Christie obsession at this point and don’t see it ending anytime soon. I may decide to read the Miss Marple tales in order, something that I did not do with the Poirot stories. If you enjoy a good cozy mystery, then enjoy this one with a nice cup of tea.
The Murder at the Vicarage is Book 3 of 12 for the 2022 TBR Challenge.