The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Ingenious! That’s what I thought when I’d finished reading The Murder at the Vicarage. Although Agatha Christie had written short stories featuring Miss Marple this is the first full length Miss Marple story, published in 1930.

I’ve been reading my way through Agatha Christie’s crime fiction for a few years now, totally out of order, which is why I’ve only just got round to reading The Murder at the Vicarage. I’d picked up along the way on the fact that Miss Marple uses her knowledge of people to help her solve the mysteries she investigates. And it is in this book that her use of analogy is made absolutely explicit, as she considers who could have killed Colonel Prothero, the unpopular churchwarden, found in the vicar’s study shot through the head. She comes up with seven suspects, all based on examples of human behaviour she has observed in the past.

Miss Marple is not the popular figure she appears in the later books as not everybody likes her. The vicar does, liking her sense of humour, and describing her as ‘a white-haired old lady with a gentle appealing manner’, whereas his wife describes her as ‘the worst cat in the village. And she always knows everything that happens – and draws the worst inference from it.

But it is very helpful to know what is going on in St Mary Mead, about Dr Stone, a well-known archaeologist superintending the excavation of a barrow on Colonel Protheroe’s land and about Mrs Lestrange, a mysterious woman who has recently moved to the village and also about who was coming and going to the vicarage and when.

It’s also helpful to have a a plan of St Mary Mead, showing where the main characters live, and plans of the layout of the vicarage and the vicar’s study, where the murder occurred.

After one of the suspects confesses to the murder Inspector Slack, who shows his contempt for Miss Marple, thinks the case is closed, but Miss Marple is puzzled – the facts seem to her to be wrong. The Murder at the Vicarage has an intricate plot, is full of red herrings and was impossible for me to unravel, but Miss Marple with her knowledge of ‘Human Nature’ solves the mystery.

I enjoyed this book very much, but Agatha Christie writing her Autobiography years later, wasn’t all that pleased with it. She thought it had too many characters and too many sub-plots; she is probably right. But she thought that the main plot was sound and that the village was as real to her as it could be. It’s real to me too.

7 thoughts on “The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie”

  1. I’ve often wondered if Christie changed her own mind about Miss Marple as the series progressed. There certainly does seem to be a change not only in the way in which the character is portrayed but also in how other characters speak about her.

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    1. Alex, in the foreword to Miss Marple and the Thirteen Problems Agatha Christie wrote that Miss Marple ‘had some affinity with my own grandmother, also a pink and white pretty old lady who, although having led the most sheltered and Victorian of lives, nevertheless always appeared to be intimately acquainted with all the depths of human depravity.’ She said she enjoyed writing the Miss Marple stories and she ‘conceived a great affection for my fluffy old lady’. I think that affection grew throughout the later stories.

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  2. This is one of my top two Christie’s – the other being The Moving Finger – so I’m delighted you enjoyed it. I also love the Joan Hickson TV version – the casting is particularly good I think.

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  3. As you know I liked this a lot too. Funnily enough I thought it was one of her first books and was going to say that I thought it was excellently plotted considering that. Then I checked and I see that she had actually written around a dozen books by the time she wrote Murder at the Vicarage so that comment’s irrelevant… she was really well into her stride. I’m enjoying A Murder is Announced at the moment, although I’m still waiting for Miss Marple to appear.

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  4. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Margaret. I’ve always been fascinated by the way Miss Marple changes and evolves over time. Perhaps that happened naturally, or perhaps Christie made a conscious choice. Either way, I find it really interesting.

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