Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

"I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way), and on resuming my seat, I remarked, in a spirit most unbecoming to my cloth, that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service."

This book is the first to introduces us to Miss Jane Marple, elderly "spinster" turned amateur detective. She is a self-confessed "observer" of people and though nothing much happens in her little village of St. Mary Mead, she is keen to the motivations and weaknesses of human nature. Things do start to heat up though when Colonel Protheroe, a much-loathed man, is found murdered in the study of the local vicar. Miss Marple inserts herself into the investigation in the hopes of keeping an innocent from being charged with murder.

The Good:

As is usual with Christie's mysteries, I found the solution original and interesting. The variety of details and red herrings kept me from solving the story on my own, though Christie does poke fun at the idea of "the butler did it".

I also like how here we can see the kind of sleuthing that separates Miss Marple from Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple is more of a criminal profiler, getting into the heads of her suspects, finding out how they tick. Poirot is more of a meticulous CSI who detects the smallest of details that provide the answer to the crime. And after reading several Poirot stories, it's nice to see how Christie can take a mystery in a different direction. I personally love the idea of delving into how and why people think.

There's a good deal of dry humour to be found in the book that I found refreshing and helped to lighten the mood at times. "If you come to a Vicarage, you ought to be prepared to find a Vicar." - page 7

The Bad:

For a book that claims to be the first introduction to Miss Marple you don't actually see a lot of her. She doesn't play a major part in the investigation and only makes a good appearance in the last thirty pages of the book. She does offer her advice and suspicions about various suspects but is mostly in the background. It's only thanks to her curious nature and the fact that the murder took place close to her home that she becomes involved, though she's not considered part of the official investigation. This is made evident by what others in St. Mary Mead think of her. "'I really believe that wizened old maid believes she thinks she knows everything there is to know. And hardly been out of this village all her life. Preposterous. What can she know of life?'" - page 70

As can be expected with a book published 70 years ago, some of the language is archaic and not easily translated. It took me a moment after reading "picture house" to understand Christie meant a movie theatre.

This is the first Marple book but having seen the TV adaptations and I was surprised at how negative and cruel Miss Marple was in this book. I'm far more used to Gwendolyn McEwan's as Miss Marple. She has a gentle manner, a mischievous smile and though she discovers the faults in others she rarely ever calls them on it. Apparently though, this Jane Marple is markedly different from later books. Here's an example of what had me so confused about her attitude. "'Dear Vicar,' said Miss Marple, 'you are so unworldly. I'm afraid that, observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it. I dare say idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn't it?' That last Parthian shot went home." - page 15

The last scene in the book summarizes the action to tie up plot points. This is disappointing as it deflates the tension and the ending loses the punch it should have had.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 3/5

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