Title: The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple #1)
Author: Agatha Christie
First published in October 1930
Genre: Golden Age Mystery
‘Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a favor!’ It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the colonel was found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe.
“My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life. In St. Mary Mead every one knows your most intimate affairs. There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”
Mr. Clement, the local clergyman, casually says “anyone who murders Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a favor.” Few hours later, Colonel Protheroe is lying in a pool of blood in the clergyman’s study. Mr. Redding Lawrance, a young artist, is arrested of the crime – well, the man ‘confessed’ so there was nothing else the police could do other than arrest him!
The protagonist, Mr. Clement is married to a woman half his age. Well, it was quite an affair, you see. They knew each other for twenty-four hours and the next thing they know, Mr. Clement asked Griselda to marry him. The couple stay in St Mary Mead and Mr. Clement’s nephew Dennis lives with them. The Clement’s maid is another story. Mary is ‘raw’ and never calls her employers ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ Her cooking… well, let’s just say she’s not a good cook and stop at that.
“I would have reproved her for that sentiment, but Mary entered at that moment with a partially cooked rice pudding. I made a mild protest, but Griselda said that the Japanese always ate half-cooked rice and had marvellous brains in consequence.”
I do not know about ‘marvellous brains’ but half-cooked rice gives you an indigestion!
The Murder at the Vicarage is the first book featuring Miss Marple. I really love the way Miss Marple is introduced into the story.
“I rather like Miss Marple,” I said. She has, at least, a sense of humor.”
“She’s the worst cat in the village,” said Griselda. “And she always knows every single thing that happens – and draws the worst inferences from it.”
Worst cat or not, my dear Griselda, Miss Marple solves the case… also, she knows of your little secret. (Which she reveals at the end of the story… after all, she saw Griselda at the store buying a certain book.)
Scandals are plenty. We have Mr. Stone and his assistant Miss Cram. The rumor is, Miss Cram might soon become Mrs. Stone. She’s half his age but love is blind, eh? Then we have Mrs. LeStrange, a woman who hardly mingles with the rest. Then there is Anne Protheroe, the colonel’s second wife, and Lettice Protheroe, the colonel’s daughter. Mr. Lawrance Redding has caught the attention of many ladies in the village – including the married ones. Oh boy, that is certainly not a good sign.
When Anne Protheroe learns Lawrance Redding is arrested for the murder of her husband, she too ‘confesses’ to killing her husband. The things that people do in the name of love. Uff!
Then there is the mystery behind the clock found near the body. There was a lot of discussion surrounding the clock and the time of murder – this reminded me of the Hercule Poirot mystery The Clocks. Colonel Melchett and Mr. Clement try their hand at sleuthing. The colonel suggests they talk to Miss Marple.
Our dear Miss Marple has a lot to say. Including the fact that she has seven suspects in mind. Seven! When asked, she refuses to reveal their names. As the story proceeds, she helps Mr. Clement by telling him her observations and all the goings-on in the village.
Mr. Clement also has a comment on how the villagers thrive on gossip:
“How any one ever gets any nourishment in this place. They must be eating their meals standing up by the window so as to be sure of not missing anything.”
Well, wasn’t this the before-television era? What more interesting is there to do than to stand by the window and get some real-life visuals of all the drama? *wink wink*
It had been a couple of years since I first read The Murder at the Vicarage and thank goodness I did not remember much of the story or the ending – I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book as much as I wanted to, otherwise!
Plenty of red herrings and a very ‘enthusiastic’ protagonist. If I have to choose between Hastings and Mr. Clement, I would say the latter makes a very interesting narrator. The spotlight is on ‘a sleepy village’ and ‘scandals.’ Believe me, plenty of saucy gossip and goings-on in St. Mary Mead so
never judge a book by its cover… um, never judge a person by their looks.
I think it was in my review/buddy read of Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery that I told Kate, Miss Marple reminds me of my maternal grandmother. Throughout the story, I could see Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in my mind’s eye – which again came up in my previous buddy read discussion with Kate. Since I mentioned Kate twice, let me do it once again – three times is lucky and all that. *winks*
Thanks to Kate for encouraging me to re-read The Murder at the Vicarage. It had been a long time since I re-read any of Christie’s novels and this book was a refreshing change from all the modern mysteries I have been currently reading.