A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

Party games…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When a mysterious notice appears in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, the villagers don’t take it very seriously.

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

The prevailing feeling is that this is a rather odd invitation from Miss Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks, perhaps to some kind of murder mystery evening. So all her friends decide to show up at the appointed time. Miss Blacklock knows nothing about it but, being a sensible woman, she realises the villagers are likely to descend on her and makes preparations for a little drinks party anyway. Once everyone is assembled, a shocking event occurs and the end result is that a man lies dead. It’s up to the police, ably assisted by Miss Marple, to find out who he was and why he died…

This has always been one of my favourite Christies, mainly because I thinks she excels herself in both plotting and characterisation. It also has one of the best beginnings, as Christie ranges round the village introducing us to all the characters by means of telling us which newspapers they routinely have delivered. Newspapers in Britain have always been such an indicator of class, social position, education, political standpoint; and Christie uses this brilliantly to very quickly telegraph (no pun intended) the social mix of the village.

Published in 1950, this is post-war Britain, and the first chapter gives us a little microcosm of British middle-class society of the time – old soldiers, the traditionally rich fading into genteel poverty, the new business classes taking over as the wealthy ones, women beginning to find their place in the workforce, people displaced from their original homes forming a mobile and fluctuating population, so that even in villages neighbours no longer know all the long histories of their neighbours – now people have to be judged on what they choose to reveal of themselves. Anyone who thinks Golden Age crime fiction has nothing much to say about society should read this chapter and think again. Christie, of course, understood totally that crime fiction is first and foremost an entertainment though, so all this information is transmitted with warmth and humour, and all in the space of a few hundred words. Many modern crime writers would probably take 150 pages, bore us all to death, and still not produce anything half as insightful…

Agatha Christie

There is one aspect of the book I don’t enjoy and that’s the treatment of Mitzi, Miss Blacklock’s foreign maid. A war refugee from Eastern Europe, she is portrayed with a kind of cruel casualness – her anxiety dismissed as hysteria, her horror stories of her life in the war dismissed as either exaggeration or with an attitude of contempt for her not having the British stiff upper lip. It’s odd, because this book also has some of Christie’s kindest and most moving characterisations – poor old Bunny, Miss Blacklock’s companion, who shows us all the tragedy of the genteel poor at that time, and the Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd, never openly described as lesbian, but portrayed with great sympathy and warmth.

I’m not going to give any details of the plot for fear of spoilers. However, this is entirely fair play – not only are all the clues in there, but Miss Marple kindly summarises them all towards the end to give us one last chance to solve it for ourselves. I’ve read this one so often over the years that I know whodunit and why and now I can more or less anticipate the clues before we get to them, but I think I was suitably baffled first time I read it. Even knowing how it all works out, I still find it an immensely enjoyable read, allowing me to admire Christie’s skill at its remarkable height.

Joan Hickson

This time around I listened to the wonderful Joan Hickson narrating it. She really is perfect for the Miss Marple books. Her old-fashioned accent is just right, and she completely gets the tone of the books – the mixture of tragedy and humour, the sympathy for human foibles and weaknesses, the little romantic interludes. In this one she made me laugh with the younger characters and moved me to tears with Bunny’s story (I’ve always had a huge soft spot for Bunny – she’s one of my favourite Christie characters). Marvellous stuff – the ideal partnership of author and narrator. Highly recommended.

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Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

62 thoughts on “A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

  1. This is one of my favourite Christie novels–one of the few that I’ve read more than once. I very rarely guess the solution to a Christie novel, but I normally get somewhere near before I’m thrown off by a red herring – this one completely and totally stumped me the first time I read it!

    • I never get anywhere near the solution – my mind just doesn’t seem to work that way. In fact, I quite often still don’t guess whodunit even on a re-read! 😉 This one is really excellent, though – up there amongst her best, I think. 😀

  2. Using newspaper delivery to introduce characters to readers couldn’t have been more ingenious. I have not read this one yet. My plan to read Christie in order of publication is currently on the backburner, and I need to revive the self-induced reading challenge.

    • Yes, I thought it was a great way to do it – she was so clever at finding quick ways to create her characters. What a great challenge! I read them all out of order when I was young and now tend to re-read favourites again and again, but I’m hoping to revisit some of the ones I haven’t re-read so often in the near future…

  3. One for my list it would seem especially as I probably didn’t read this because it was Miss Marple. One of the things I enjoy most about rereading the AC novels is the views from the time although as you point out sometimes they aren’t as pleasant as we would hope.

    • Again as with a lot of the Miss Marples, she’s not in it as much as you might expect. But I do think you’d like the storyline of this one, and it’s one of her best at creating a specific feeling of time and place, I think…

  4. Oh, lucky you to have heard the Joan Hickson narration, FictionFan. That in itself adds to the story, I think. And this is a terrific one, I agree. I love the way the characters interact, and the way Christie builds that small-town atmosphere. The plotting is well-done, too. I have to admit, I’ve not listened to this one (just read it), but perhaps I should…

    • I must say the audio versions are a brilliant way of revisiting them – the narration adds a new element even to the ones I know best. And Hickson is as great as you’d expect. This was always one of my favourites – I love Bunny, and I think Miss Blacklock’s story is very well done…

    • I can never guess whodunit even when she goes back over all the clues just before revealing the solution. And yet, once she explains, I nearly always feel she’s played very fairly with the reader… 🙂

  5. Love this one! Miss Marple has always been a favorite. Though I didn’t like some of the TV adaptations that stuck her in stories she was not in, just to fill a season. But I love the books she really was in.

    • I think that’s mainly why I liked the Joan Hickson versions – they tend to stick much more closely to the actual books. Some of the later adaptations should be banned by law… grrr!

  6. Ah, this is one of my favorite Christie books. I’ve read it several times and have also listened to Joan Hickson’s marvelous narration. I agree with each and every statement you made – Bunny, the maid, a window into society at the time, not guessing the solution the first time around. Good job on your review here!! Now, I suspect I’ll need to read this again. LOL

    • Oh, isn’t she wonderful at narrating them? I also love Hugh Fraser’s narration of the Poirot books. I find the narrations make even the ones I know almost off by heart feel fresh again. Ha! A re-read of an Agatha Christie is always a pleasure… 😀

  7. How did I miss this one? I so admire Christie’s skill (particularly at plotting) and have lately devoured many of her works. Guess I’d better add this one to my TBR, drat! Nice to end the week on a high note, FF. Now go have a slice of chocolate cake and a wonderful weekend!

    • Her plotting is second to none in my opinion, and though sometimes the methods can stretch credulity a bit, I always find the motives very believable, and often quite moving. This is one of her best, I think – enjoy! Have a great weekend, Debbie!

  8. Joan Hickson was always the perfect television Miss Marple for me. I hadn’t thought about listening to these as audiobooks but if she is narrating then then I shall have to get hold of a copy.

    • I think the Hickson versions are wonderful, not just because of her performance, but because they tend to stick more closely to the books than a lot of the newer adaptations. I’m loving working back through the Christies on audio – Joan Hickson for the Miss Marples, and Hugh Fraser equally great for the Poirots… 🙂

  9. I really like this one! Agree about Mitzi though. I can’t remember if it’s in the original book but certainly in the Hickson adaptation Miss Marple sticks up for Mitzi when Bunny says “She screams” and Miss Marple benignly replies “Well, it’s a sign of life.” Hickson’s deadpan delivery always raises a smile with me at this point!

    • Ha! I already can’t remember if that’s in the book – my dreadful memory is the main reason I can re-read books so often, though, so I don’t mind! Miss Blacklock recognises that they’re all a bit harsh to her at one point, but then immediately goes back to being dismissive. But otherwise I do love this one – great plot!

  10. I liked the televised version of this mystery and was taken aback when you said marple rather than poirot! I have sought out everything christie available on netflix, including all three miss marples ( my favorite is the curly haired one. I found joan hicks rather imposing and cold, perhaps because im American. ). So at a distance of three years since last viewing i cant remember who the sleuth was in A Murder is Announced! Embarrassing. I guess ill have to watch them all again, and maybe i’ll slide in a book or two along the way. Has anyone seen the latest murder on the orient express movie? And if so what are your reviews? Thanks again for a great review!

    • I know what you mean about Joan Hickson – my mental image of Miss Marple is of someone fluffier and warmer too, though I’ve just re-read the start of the first Miss Marple book and she is quite forbidding in it. But I love the Hickson adaptations best because they stick much more closely to the books than most of the other adaptations. I decided against the new movie – I just couldn’t ‘see’ Branagh as Poriot, especially with that ridiculous moustache! 😉 But a lot of people seem to have enjoyed it…

  11. I’ve always rather enjoyed this one – I thought it was quite a good satire of small-minded English society (and perhaps the treatment of Mitzi is to be understood in this context). Besides, I’ve had more than my share of comments that I am too loud, too hysterical, too melodramatic, too convoluted etc. etc. because I am foreign. (While, of course, on the Continent, everyone thinks I am such a perfect English lady). I don’t think that kind of ‘generalisation’ or stereotyping has gone away.

    • Ha! I think you’re right! Even as a Glaswegian living in London, I got very tired of ‘drunk’ and ‘mean’ jokes, or the constant references to Braveheart which seemed to be as much as most of my English friends knew about Scottish ‘history’… 😉 But in this book I think it always startles me a bit because she gives such kind characterisations to a lot of the others – something she doesn’t always do.

  12. I still have most of the Miss Marples to read, including this one, as they never seem to appeal to me as much as Christie’s other books. You’ve made this sound great though, so I think I’ll have to move it further up the TBR. Thanks for not giving anything away!

    • I love the Miss Marples – she’s quite often not in them very much, but I find that often the underlying stories are more emotional – less puzzles, and more based on motive maybe. I find this one particularly interesting in terms of motive and characterisation – if you do read it sometime, I’ll be interested to hear what you think…

  13. Haven’t read this one, but it sounds delightful. I also love the fact that Mrs.Blacklock has no idea what’s been planned, but being polite is of utmost importance so she sets out some beverages anyway. Sometimes I feel like we’ve lost way too many of our manners over the decades 🙂 It can’t be a murder party without some snacks!

  14. I’m going to have to look out for these in the library because I love love Joan Hickson. We have a box DVD set of those Marple’s and thiugh we’ve watched them so much I can practically act certain parts I still enjoy them.

    • Ha! I’m the same – I’ve watched them all a million times at least! The audios are great – she doesn’t “act” all the roles exactly, but she has subtle changes of tone for whoever’s speaking. I hope you manage to track them down. 🙂

            • I might be able to send you it if you’d like. Audible have a marketing feature where people can send a book to a non-member (obviously to try to tempt them to join up, but you don’t have to). Each person can only get one book though, so the first question is, have you ever received a free book from Audible from anyone else? If the answer’s no, then the second question is, do you have an Amazon/Audible account? You’ll need one to access the book. If so, and you’d like to try it, send me your email address and I’ll send you the book. My email address is fictionfan@virginmedia.com. Once you get it, it tells you what to do, but basically you download the Audible app and it should appear as if by magic. Someone sent me a book and it worked perfectly, and no unwanted side effects like them bombarding me with marketing stuff or anything. Let me know!

  15. I must re-read this, and will be surprised as I can never remember who the villain is (except for Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).
    I always forget how funny Agatha Christie is too.

    • Ha – there’s only half a dozen or so of them that I’ve read so often I actually remember whodunit, but with most of them I’m surprised each time too – it’s great! 😉 Yes, there’s a lot of humour in most of them and they tend to be the ones I like best.

    • I love both, but I think marginally I prefer the Miss Marples. But really my favourite tends to be whatever one I read last! I’m gradually re-reading them, but just in a kind of random basis. They’re so enjoyable… 🙂

  16. I’m glad you are able to enjoy it so much despite the unfair treatment of the maid. I can overlook things like that if it’s an otherwise enjoyable book – to a degree! 🙂 I’ve only read the one Miss Marple so I have this to look forward to!

    • Yes, it bothers me sometimes more than others – I think it depends if I feel as if the author meant it, if you know what I mean, and in this one I don’t think Christie does. Ooh, you have lots of good ones to look forward to then… 😀

  17. It’s interesting that newspapers indicate so much about a person. There are some key publications in the States that would tell me about a person–the New Yorker and the New York Times vs the kind of stuff they sell in line at the grocery story, but many of those are magazines. You wrote NEWSPAPERS. How many papers did/does the UK have??

    • Hmm… probably just half a dozen or so main ones, and a few that only a small number of people read, like The Daily Worker (the Communist newspaper, beloved of 19-year-old long-haired students and practically nobody else… 😉 ) Our print press tends to be quite right-wing whereas TV news always gets accused of left-wing bias. But there’s also the differences between broadsheets and tabloids, which kind of indicates class and level of education. It’s interesting over here just how much you can tell about someone from the newspapers they read. Pity they’re gradually dying out…

  18. Joan Hickson was my favourite TV Miss Marple – true, she wasn’t really fluffy enough in appearance, but she did have that finely tuned acerbic retort that I so liked from the books & thought was an integral part of the written character. TV adaptations of characters have a life of their own, and I’ve enjoyed all of the incarnations in their own right, probably carried along on the good plots.

    • Yes, she grew to be my idea of Miss Marple so that now I’m actually surprised when I read the books that the Miss Marple in them is fluffier. But she’s still a sharp old so-and-so… and those knitting needles are scary…
      I really liked Julia Mackenzie’s interpretation, though I felt she was a little too young for the role. But I thought they messed with books too much, so they didn’t overtake the Joan Hickson versions as my favourites. I do think David Suchet is the ideal Poirot though – I have a hard time seeing anyone else in that role now.

  19. Absolutely one her finest 🙂 It is a shame about those occasional uncomfortable moments in Christie (and other writers of a similar era) where prejudices and remarks we now deem totally unacceptable creep in. Although, I suppose, it serves as a reminder that we must continue to ensure such views are challenged in our modern times.

    • It’s a great one – I love poor Bunny especially. Yes, I fear the attitude to Mitzi was uncomfortably close to a lot of the stuff that gets hurled around about refugees today, so I don’t think we can get too smug just yet. It always surprises me with Christie though, because her characterisations are often very kind…

      • Is it possible that she wrote the character in that way to generate sympathy for Mitzi with the readers ?? I’m probably over-thinking it 🙂

        • Hmm… I wish, but I don’t think so. I think that kind of casual callousness to what ‘foreigners’ had gone through in the war was fairly commonplace back then. Brits were even more insular back then than we are now…

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