The Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

“My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life.  In St. Mary Mead everyone 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.”

Fairly recently I was reminded that I’d never read a Miss Marple mystery, despite having read and enjoyed many of Christie’s mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot.  It’s one of those bookish oversights that I can’t logically explain.  My aunt was the first person to introduce me to Agatha Christie, when I was in high school.  She gave me a hardcover collection of five famous Poirot cases, and I was hooked.  This same aunt, however, prefers Miss Marple as a detective to Poirot, so why didn’t she give me Marple?  And why has it taken me 20+ years to get around to reading one with the clever spinster? Perhaps we’ll never know.

murder-at-the-vicarageIn any case, I’m glad I finally tried one.  This is the first featuring Marple, set in the fictional British village of St. Mary Mead.  I was surprised to find that Marple is almost a side character in the book, albeit a vital one.  The story is narrated by the Vicar himself, and the murder is one of those types where many in the village have a motive, and the victim is spectacularly unpopular. Colonel Protheroe is found shot to death sitting at the Vicar’s desk, and within hours we have two separate confessions from two probably suspects.

It felt very classically British and cozy, with all the gossipy spinsters contributing tidbits to the police investigation, as well as the Vicar himself dipping his toe into detective work.  I very much enjoyed the tone and humor of the book, finding it recalled my beloved Barbara Pym at times.  The Vicar’s wife, the much younger Griselda, is especially funny.  He asks her at the beginning of the book what she’s got scheduled that day, and she replies,

“My duty,” said Griselda.  “My duty as the Vicaress.  Tea and scandal at four-thirty.”

“Who is coming?”

Griselda ticked them off her fingers with a glow of virtue on her face.

“Mrs. Price Ridley, Miss Weatherby, Miss Hartnell, and that terrible Miss Marple.”

“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.

My only complaint is that this was a very slow read for me.  It took me a week, and my paperback edition is only 230 pages long!  I voiced my issue with a regular library patron who enjoys Christie and she said that the Marple mysteries do unfold at a slower pace than the Poirots.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly possible.  Or perhaps it’s just this particular title.  Any of you Christie fans care to weigh in on that one?

Despite the glacial pace, I did enjoy it.  There’s some clever misdirection by the master mystery writer, and I (once again) did not guess the murderer.  The Vicar and Vicaress were charming, and I found that Miss Marple grew on me as the story progressed.  She is indeed a “shrewd” character, as the Vicar describes her.  As all great amateur detectives are, she’s a keen observer of human nature, yet I found her to be humble as well – something I don’t think I can say of Hercule Poirot.  I am most definitely going to try another one in the series and see how I like it.  There are still many other Christie mysteries I’ve not yet read.  I find myself reaching for these when I’m stressed or in a weird reading mood. They’re dependably entertaining and serve as palate-cleansers.  No matter who the detective is, there will always be a place for Agatha Christie in my reading life.


27 thoughts on “The Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

  1. There’s nothing quite like a good ol’ Agatha Christie mystery if you’re feeling stressed/down/nostalgic. Although I have to say I prefer the ones with Poirot just because they do tend to move at a faster pace. That said though, Miss Marple is much more likeable as a character in my opinion.

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  2. I have to come to Miss Marple’s rescue. I think this one is slower than your average Marple’s plot. One of my favorites Miss Marple is The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side, although if you read it order, it’s kind of a late one.

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  3. I love this one! I’m not sure I do really find the Miss Marples slower than the Poirots – must check the next time I read one. But it’s quite common for Miss Marple to not actually be in her books very much – in some of them she really only makes a brief appearance. I like that though – it often means that we get a new narrator, like the vicar in this one. I recommend The Moving Finger – probably my favourite of all of Christie’s books, though it’s a hard choice! 🙂

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  4. I have seen the play Ten Little Indians, and I have read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but that’s the end of my experience with Christie’s works! I definitely need to improve upon that, as I really adored reading The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, as I imagine she was based on Miss Marple!

    I think I’d love to pick up a single Marple novel and see how I feel about it. Like you pointed out pacing is critical to engagement. Character development is key to my enjoyment of a novel, and it sounds like we don’t get much of that here.

    Great review, as always, Laila!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thanks, Jackie. I wouldn’t say we get much character development here, although there are some appealing archetypes. With series mysteries, part of the attraction is my developing understanding of the characters as the series moves along. I hope to get a better picture of Miss Marple in further books!

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      1. I wonder if I’m just not patient enough to wait multiple books to better know the characters? I do like Sherlock, though, so, hm. I’ll have to read more Christie and see if I fall in love that way.

        Any Miss Marple books in particular you are hoping to read?

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      2. I appreciate and respect that. I like to read the first book in the series to get a good idea for the character. If I am in love, I go in order. If I’m not sold on the books yet, I find the next most popular book. It’s worked well for me this far.
        I hope you enjoy getting to know Miss Marple!

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  5. I have never read an Agatha Christie mystery. Our library has a whole collection of the books but I just pass them each time. Perhaps I will give one a try someday though I am not a fan of slow paces. Great review and I hope the next book in the series will be an even more enjoyable read for you.

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  6. This is a great Christie mystery. I think it’s just the right blend of intriguing and creepy. (For me, creepy to scary is a fine, but crucial line!) I didn’t mind the slower build-up because it was an Agatha Christie so I knew that it was going to get good. Maybe, it it had been my first time reading her, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much.

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  7. Have you read any Sherlock books? I always wonder what the main difference between his stories and Hercule’s is, as I’ve read neither. I’m not a big mystery fan, but the reviews people write about Agatha Christie are always charming, so I like reading such reviews.

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    1. Melanie, I have *not* read Sherlock Holmes yet. I don’t know why, just another weird gap in my reading life. I feel like I should probably address that, since I’m a big mystery fan. Charming would be a word to describe this particular mystery – that’s part of the allure, for me at least!

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