As A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie opens, everyone in Chipping Cleghorn opens their Gazette one Friday morning to find an advertisement starting, “A murder is announced. . . . Friends, accept this, the only intimation.” It tells them to go to Little Paddock, the home of Letitia Blacklock, but she didn’t submit the advertisement to the paper and can’t figure out who did. However, knowing human nature, she prepares for people to stop by her home, which her young cousin Patrick calls “intelligent anticipation.” Her preparations prove necessary since the whole village shows up. Then, precisely at the stroke of 6:30, the lights go out and a masked man steps into the room, shining a flashlight into everyone’s eyes and saying, “Stuck ’em up!” Then, before he finishes his circle of the room with his light, a gun goes off twice and the man crumples to the floor. And Letty Blacklock stands with blood dripping down her face.
Soon the young man is recognized as Rudy Scherz, a Swiss immigrant who works at the spa in a nearby town. Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock takes charge of the case and starts to look into the witness statements, while Sir Henry Clithering, former head of Scotland Yard and his godfather, gives occasional advice, including the importance of talking with with senior ladies, who are alert to their surroundings. But then, Sir Henry is thrilled to receive a letter from his favorite older lady, whom he describes this way: “When it comes to murder, she’s the goods!” Thus Miss Marple enters the scene and proves her status as a great detective once again.
As with all of Agatha Christie’s books, the plot is very creatively well done. She always makes sure to make the killer be a significant character rather than someone we hardly even remember. She’s careful to play by all the rules giving readers the chance to solve the mystery, but she also crafts her books so cleverly that we usually cannot guess the true solution.
But another thing I appreciate about this book is the development of many of the characters. Christie was interested in building her characters up further, but I’ve read that her publisher discouraged her from doing so based upon the belief that her books would not sell as well if she did so. But this book still has some fun characters in it.
I love the character of “Bunch” Harmon, the wife of the local vicar who has known Miss Marple her whole life as “Aunt Jane.” I especially love the fact that she has named the vicarage cat Tiglath Pileser, after an Assyrian king. But I also recognized the name in Christie’s book talking about her and her husband’s lives as archeologists, Come, Tell Me How You Live. Tiglath Pileser is obviously the name of a dig location used by archeologists. So Christie’s choice of that to name the cat was sort of a delightful inside joke.
There is also a pair of middle-aged single women who live together, the dominant, masculine Miss Hinchcliff and the silly Miss Murgatroyd. Some people consider them to be a lesbian couple, but it is also possible that they merely supported each other as roommates in an era when World War I led to a large surplus of single women without men to be able to marry. I did laugh at one quote from Hinchcliff while talking about the murderer: “I say ‘he’ because it’s easier, but there’s no reason why it should be a man rather than a woman except of course that men are dirty dogs.”
This book, published in 1950, shows some of the challenges of post-war life, in particular the continued rationing and the way people’s war records still had an influence on their lives five years later, especially the war deserters, who were still considered criminals five years later. The book includes discussions of the rationing board and the scarcity of coal and oil. It also talks about local bartering schemes in which people trade their own homemade or home grown products for their neighbors’ products. Yet this system of barter was illegal in an age when everyone had to pay large amounts of money and rationing coupons for everything, no matter how unjust that sounds to us readers now.
Rosemary Leach narrates the audio edition of this book. She uses creative inflections that make the book seem realistic and very enjoyable. No one can match the performance of Joan Hickson, in my opinion, but Leach still does an excellent job and deserves high accolades.
A Murder Is Announced was Agatha Christie’s 50th novel to get published, and it stands out as continuing her high quality of writing. The book was well received upon its publication and shows a high degree of cleverness in its plot. I give this book five stars!
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