The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple) by Agatha Christie

Enter Miss Marple…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Colonel Protheroe is one of those men nobody likes, so when he’s shot dead in the vicar’s study the list of suspects is long. He’s a bullying husband to his second wife, Anne, an overbearing father to Lettice, his daughter, a tough magistrate meting out harsh judgement to the criminal classes of St Mary Mead, antagonistic to anyone whose morals he deems to be lax, and an exacting churchwarden, always on the look out for wrongdoing amongst the church officials and congregation. In fact, it was just earlier that very day that the vicar had remarked that anyone who murdered the colonel would be doing the world a favour!

The police are suitably baffled, but fortunately there’s an old lady in the village, with an observant eye, an ear for gossip, an astute mind and an unerring instinct for recognising evil… Miss Marple! Relying on her lifetime’s store of village parallels, she will sniff out the real guilty party while the police are still chasing wild geese all over the village green…

The narrator in the book is the vicar, Leonard Clement, and he and his younger and rather irreverent wife, Griselda, give the book much of its humour and warmth. It’s Miss Marple’s first appearance and she’s more dithery and less prone to Delphic pronouncements than she becomes in some of the later novels. This is her as I always picture her (I suspect it may have been the first one I read) and is the main reason I never think the actresses who play her do so with quite enough of a fluttery old woman feel to the character. Here, she’s a village gossip who watches the ongoings in the village through her binoculars under the pretence of being an avid bird-watcher, and the Clements joke about her as a nosy busy-body, always prying into the lives of her neighbours. As the book goes on, Leonard finds himself investigating alongside her, and gradually gains an appreciation of the intelligence and strength of character underneath this outward appearance, as does the reader.

Challenge details:
Book: 24
Subject Heading: The Great Detectives
Publication Year: 1930

The plot is very good, with as much emphasis on alibis and timings as on motives. Because Colonel Protheroe was such an unpleasant man, the reader (like the characters) doesn’t have to waste much time grieving for him. The suspects range from the sympathetic to the mysterious, from the wicked to the pitiable, as Christie gradually feeds their motives out to us. She shows the village as a place where no secret can be kept for long from the little army of elderly ladies who fill their lives excitedly gossiping about their neighbours. But while some of them are always getting the wrong end of the stick and spreading false stories, Miss Marple has the insight to see through to the truth. In his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Martin Edwards has placed this novel in his The Great Detectives section, and Miss Marple rightly deserves to be there. But he could as easily have put it in his Serpents in Eden category, for its classic portrayal of hidden wickedness beneath the idyllic surface of an English village.

Agatha Christie

Inspector Slack also makes his first appearance in this book – a dedicated officer, but one who is always jumping to hasty conclusions. He never stops to listen to people properly, and is brash and a bit bullying, and oh, so dismissive of our elderly heroine! A mistake, as he will discover when she reveals all towards the end!

I love this book and have read it about a million times. So it was a real pleasure to listen to the incomparable Joan Hickson’s narration of it this time – I find listening to Christie on audiobook brings back a feeling of freshness even to the ones I know more or less off by heart. Hickson gets the warmth and humour of the books, and gives each character a subtly distinctive voice, though never letting the acting get in the way of the narration. She does the working-class people particularly well, managing to avoid the slight feeling of caricaturing that can come through to modern readers in the books.

Great stuff!

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

49 thoughts on “The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple) by Agatha Christie

    • I love that adaptation too! Her audiobook narrations are sheer joy – between Hickson and Hugh Fraser these Christie audios have become one of my favourite things recently… 😀

  1. Who better than Joan Hickson to narrate this one, FictionFan! I’ve always particularly liked the sly wit in the novel, and I agree that the dynamic between the vicar and his wife make the story that much better. Another thing, among many, to like about this is its portrayal of village life. To me, it feels at the same time a salute and a ‘warts and all’s sort of look at that community. Perhaps that’s just my view…

    • Absolutely! Joan Hickson for the Miss Marple books and Hugh Fraser for Poirot – sheer joy! I always love the wit in the books and find that quite often the TV adaptations miss that, especially in the Miss Marple ones. And I do think this is the one that gives the best feel for St Mary Mead, maybe because it doesn’t all happen in the manor house…

    • I’ve read them and seen them so often that I’m the same, and that’s why the audios have been giving me so much pleasure – it makes them feel fresh and new again somehow. Joan Hickson for Miss Marple books and Hugh Fraser for the Poirots – what could be better? 😀

    • I can’t be 100% sure, but I think it may have been my first Agatha Christie way back in the dark ages! And I still love it just as much – my love for it has lasted longer than some marriages… 😉

  2. My goodness. I need to pick up some Christie, I have a few on the shelf waiting for me but not this one. I haven’t read enough of Miss Marple to really appreciate her character. I am sort of team Poirot I guess.

  3. Every time you review an Agatha Christie book I am reminded of how much I enjoy her mysteries and that I need to read more of them. I don’t think I’ve read many of the Miss Marple ones though so maybe I should start here… (And is there an alternate pronunciation to the name Lettice that isn’t lettuce? Because if not then I’m going to guess that his daughter murdered him.)

    • (Hahaha – sadly it does seem to be pronounced lettuce – it always makes me laugh. Could be worse, I suppose… cabbage?) I love the Miss Marple books and this would be a great one to start with. This and The Moving Finger are the two I love best… 😀

  4. A true classic! How does Christie make murder such a comfort read? I always loved the fact that Miss Marple and Poirot are both a success because they are treated as invisible by the arrogant people around them. Marple is ignored because she is a little old lady who can’t do any harm while people will tell Poirot any old thing on the basis that as he’s a foreigner, so it doesn’t matter what they say to him. Foolishness that both use to skewer the unwary.

    • I know – she really does, and yet her stories are too dark to really be considered cosies. She’s in a class of her own! That’s very true – both of them are made fun of by other characters, too, until they learn better. I love Miss Marple in this one, especially, as seen through Leonard and Griselda’s eyes…

    • I must say I love the Christie audiobooks – I don’t know why, but some styles of books work better for me on audio than others. These and John Wyndham’s books are my current audio faves… 😉

    • Thank you! 😀 I think it’s the first Agatha Christie I read way back in the Dark Ages, which is probably why I’m still so fond of it, but my overall favourite Miss Marple is The Moving Finger. I love most of them though…

      • I don’t remember the first I read but my favourite Marple books are A Murder is Announced and 4:50 From Paddington.

        Moving Finger is really good but it didn’t have enough of Miss Marple in it.

        In case you’re interested, I did a post on my Marple favourites a few days/weeks? (fairly recently I mean) ago.

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