The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Lab in 1930 and later that year in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company. It is the first full length novel to feature Miss Marple. Miss Marple had previously appeared in short stories published in the Royal Magazine and The Story-Teller Magazine.

Colonel Protheroe is a disagreeable and unpopular man. So, when he’s found dead in the vicarage study, the list of suspects just may have to include nearly half of the village. With several different yet interconnected events going on simultaneously finding out the truth is indeed a tricky job. Fortunately Miss Marple is present at the heart of the crime scene to unravel all with her keen observation power and a deep insight in to the human psyche.

This is not one of the best Marple stories. I’d rate several other Christie books above this one but that does not mean I don’t love The Murder at the Vicarage. This is still much better than many other books from the detective mystery genre that I’ve read.

In The Murder at the Vicarage, none of the characters really stand out. I find Leonard Clement, the vicar and the narrator, of the story to be a bit wooden. Almost all of the female characters are selfish to some degree. Most of them seem rather vain and opportunist. The character of Colonel Protheroe is not sufficiently developed for me to see why he’s so badly hated by everyone in the village. We’re told what he was like but he is killed off so quickly that we don’t get a sense of his wickedness. This for me is important because I find that in detective fiction what kind of a person the victim was really gives us a clue to why he was murdered and who the killer could be.

Incidentally, the characters of the vicar and his wife appear in two other Marple Mysteries, The Body in the Library (1942) and 4.50 from Paddington (also known as What Mrs. McGillycuddy Saw) (1957).

The story does feel a little bit drawn out. We are sent on way too many wild-goose chases. I think the mystery could have been solved much more quickly. Many things that should have been obvious from the start seem to come as a surprise to everyone in the story. The solution comes as a let down.

Christie’s writing is wonderful as usual. The dry humor in the narrative is just superb. The vicar’s dialogues are particularly funny. The narrative is cozy and comfortable.

I re-read The Murder at the Vicarage from time to time and enjoy it as a part of the beginning and evolution of my favorite fictional detective of all time, Miss Marple. Overall, a good and satisfying read.

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