Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “Murder at the Vicarage”


Murder at the Vicarage)In Agatha Christie’s 1930 Murder at the Vicarage, Vicar Leonard Clement enjoys a quiet life at St. Mary Mead, preaching Sundays, teaching the children, and joining his wife, Griselda, at the weekly “Tea and Scandal at the Vicarage” with the senior women. The one blemish on the community is Colonel Lucius Protheroe, an abrasive magistrate who, in seeming to try to prove his importance, comes down hard on everyone who comes before him in court and is cruel to his wife and daughter.

One day at lunch, the vicar, the narrator of this book, exclaims that anyone who murders Colonel Protheroe will be doing the world a favor. Mrs. Price Ridley has been complaining that someone has been stealing money given in the church collection plate, and when the vicar dismisses her concerns, she takes them to Colonel Protheroe, who makes an appointment to go over all the books with the vicar in search of “defalcations,” an appointment announced loudly in front of the whole community. But the vicar gets a phone call to go to the side of a dying parishioner, whom he finds to be getting better instead of worse, causing him to run late to his meeting. However, when he arrives, he finds Colonel Protheroe lying dead, seated at the vicar’s desk and shot in the back of his head while in the process of writing a letter to the vicar that he could no longer wait and would return another time.

The community of St. Mary Mead becomes abuzz with the news of the murder, but the next morning things become even more exciting when they receive news that the portrait painter, Lawrence Redding, who has been using the little studio belonging to the vicarage, actually entered the police station the night earlier, handed them a gun, and admitted to the crime. The vicar had earlier caught him in an embrace with Mrs. Anne Protheroe, giving him a motive for killing her husband. Miss Marple, the neighbor who lives near the back door to the vicar’s study and keeps sharp eyes on the entire neighborhood, shows up at the vicar’s door. She is especially excited about getting the chance to put her many theories abouft detection into practice on a murder. But for possibly the first time ever, news has reached the vicarage before getting to Miss Marple, who is first astonished to hear about the arrest of Lawrence and then disturbed to hear of his confession, certain that he has given it falsely.

This leads the characters in the book on a major mystery hunt, one which involves all sorts of red herrings and leads to everyone’s becoming a suspect in turn. Miss Marple does get her first opportunity to solve a murder, using what soon becomes her famous method of comparing one situation to another, and if it was true for the first situation, then it must be true for the other. She likes to state that people are the same everywhere. This book sets the stage for establishing the character of Miss Marple and her genius at understanding human nature that causes her to solve crimes that have stumped the police. The conclusion to this book will astonish the reader until you stop to think about the case and realize just how much you should have spotted the solution.

James Saxon reads the narration to my chosen edition of this book. Curiously enough, Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple in the BBC series, read the first version of the book that I listened to, which is an odd choice of narrators given that the book is narrated by the vicar, yet she still manages to be effective. My aunt, to whom I gave my old CDs of the book now that I this Audible version with Saxon, exclaimed numerous times over how much she loved hearing Hickson read the book. But personally, I really enjoy the work of Saxon, who reads many of the Ngaio Marsh books too (Keep an eye out in a few months before I get to that author). Saxon does a terrific job of keeping the role of the vicar, contributing tremendously to the quality of this already-impressive book.

Murder at the Vicarage did not receive tremendous reviews at the time of its publication, as I think it was ahead of its time in giving such a leading role to a little old lady. However, it has held its own over time, and I particularly enjoy this book. It is really fun to get to see Miss Marple from the viewpoint of another character, especially since all other books about her, with the exception of The Moving Finger , in which she plays a small role, are written in third person. The mystery is creative, while the characters are fun! I give this book five stars!

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