Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Murder at the Vicarage

By Agatha Christie.

Hello to visitors from Mysteries in Paradise Agatha Christie Blog Tour! We're celebrating a month long tribute to Agatha Christie on the 120th anniversary of her birth. Go here to see the other stops on the tour.

Recently Dunedin had the pleasure of Scottish crime writer Val McDermid coming to town. I blogged about the visit, and the fine time I had out to dinner with Val, fellow Dunedin writer Liam MacIlvanney and friends. One of the intriguing things in Val's talk at the Settler's Museum was her recounting books that had influenced her life, and one of those mentioned was Agatha Christie's, The Murder at the Vicarage. Val's family didn't have the luxury of many books at home. The library became Val's lifeline when she was a child, but one of the books they did happen to have at home was Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage. The result of this was that the book became Val's default book when she couldn't find anything else to read. In fact she had lost count of the number of times she had read the book and said she enjoyed it every time. So one has to think Agatha Christie had quite an effect on the one-day-to-be best-selling crime writer.

So, I thought, if it's good enough for Val, I had better see what it was all about...

Oh, the goings on in the little village of St Mary Mead when Colonel Protheroe is shot dead in the Vicarage. Len Clement, the vicar, is appalled that such a thing should happen in his village, let alone in his home. A local artist with a reputation with the ladies promptly confesses to the crime, and then so does the not-so-grieving widow. When the timing shows it couldn't have been either of them, who knows who to believe? In the midst of all this chaos and confusion are the ever vigilant eyes of Miss Jane Marple, one of a quartet of old biddies in the town who know everyone's business. But Miss Marple's skills prove rather valuable.

Oh, the intricacies of this book; clues, red herrings, diversions, coincidences, multiple schemings, I was at a loss until the last few pages. Christie's skill in plotting certainly shows it self in this novel, as do her colourful characters, from the Vicar's much younger and vivacious wife, Griselda, to the ahead of her time Gladys Cram, a young single woman employed as a secretary to a visiting archaeologist and with a penchant for short skirts. I do have to say I was quite surprised at how harsh Miss Marple comes across in The Murder at the Vicarage. This is the first Miss Marple book I have read, and I gather she softens in later novels, but in this one she was really quite bitchy!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I think I'll even have to do a Val and read it again. I'll look out for all the clues with the advantage of foresight.

In a nice little bonus at the end of the novel, the edition I read had an advertisement for my favourite Kiwi girl Ngaio Marsh and her novel The Nursing Home Murder, so happy happy all around.


Kerrie said...

Thanks for this Vanda. I've heard Val pay tribute to the early influence of Agatha Christie too. Amazing how many of us the Dame "touched"

Anonymous said...

Vanda - Terrific review! Isn't this a great book :-). There are so many authors out there who've been influenced by Christie. So good to know that Val is one of them..

Dorte H said...

I agree that Miss Marple changes quite a bit, but I have a theory that it also makes a difference that we see things through the eyes of young Griselda. She is not exactly patient and tolerant towards the ´old cats´ of the congregation in the beginning, but in the ending when she has seen some of Miss Marple´s qualities, I think we begin to see her i a new light.
So as I try to teach my students, the point of view matters :D

Vanda Symon said...

Thank you, ladies.

Dorte, thanks for the comment about point of view as it brings to mind one of the observations I have made in the few Christie novels I have read. I like the way Christie tells the story from the perspective of someone else watching Poirot, or Miss Marple in action. It keeps the mainstays fresh, and changes the timbre of each novel. Does she do it this way in all of her novels?

Bernadette said...

OK you've convinced me to give it a go - I must have read it years ago (I read them all I think) but in my recent rediscoverings I've stuck to M. Poirot as my preferred detective. But if it's good enough for you and for Val I'll have a go (plus I just bought an eReader and there happens to be a reasonably priced copy available for it)

Dorte H said...

Vanda, you will have to ask Christie experts such as Kerrie and Margot. I have read some of her novels when I was younger, but apart from Murder at the Vicarage which I reread last year, I don´t remember them very clearly. I think the first one is different in the way that we see Miss Marple through these young, not very mild eyes, though.

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Love Murder at the Vicarage..and, of course, Val McDermid. It's a Two-fer! And, an ad for Ngaio Marsh..make it a three-fer!