Murder At The Vicarage: “It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon in the Vicarage.”
Detective: Miss Marple (first appearance)
Length: 285 pages
Setting: St. Mary Mead, Downshire (fictional)
Len Clement is the vicar of St. Mary Mead, a quaint quiet English village with the usual bevy of eldery ladies whose time is spent spreading the village news. Clement, with his pretty young wife, Griselda, is more than accustomed to entertaining his parishioners and it’s common for them to come to him for advice. Expecting a visit from Colonel Protheroe, Clement is unexpectedly called away on an emergency but, finding it a hoax, returns to find Colonel Protheroe shot dead in Clement’s own study. It’s perhaps not a surprising occurrence. Protheroe is a cantankerous, demanding, surly man who is not well-liked by anyone. With a wife, who dislikes him, a daughter who merely tolerates him for money, and a man who has eyes for Protheroe’s wife, the suspects are many and motives abound.
Inspector Slack is called in to investigate. With his over-confident demeanour, his ignorant bullheadedness and narrow viewpoints, one wonders if Protheroe’s murderer will be brought to justice. Yet everyone has underestimated the fluttery yet astute elderly ladies of the village, in particular Miss Marple. Very little gets past her and, being a person who is extremely adept at studying human nature, these two qualities enable her to puzzle together the disjointed clues, wade through the numerous suspects, and arrive at the solution to this complex mystery.
I just loved this first Miss Marple mystery and gave it five stars! I thought the setting of St. Mary’s Mead just perfect, to contrast a small quiet village with a shocking and devious murder. Christie created Mr. Clement with just the right balance between a dutiful pastor but a pastor with the weaknesses and foibles of a man. Miss Marple’s fluttery manner and sometimes appearance of confusion in contrast with her razor-sharp astuteness and superior reasoning is delightful, especially when she crosses wits with someone as dull and pompous as Inspector Slack.
While this first Miss Marple book was enjoyed by critics, it was for many not considered Christie’s best crafted novel, the Daily Express saying, “I have read better works by Agatha Christie, but that does not mean that this last book is not more cheerful, more amusing, and more seductive than the generality of detective novels.” Christie herself had some criticisms of it, claiming that later, “Reading Murder at the Vicarage now, I am not so pleased with it as I was at the time. It has, I think, far too many characters, and too many sub-plots. But at any rate the main plot is sound.” I, however, thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to her next Miss Marple mystery!
“There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”