A Murder Is Announced
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Crooked House|
|Followed by||Three Blind Mice and Other Stories|
A Murder Is Announced is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in June 1950 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in the same month. The UK edition sold for eight shillings and sixpence (8/6) and the US edition at $2.50.
The novel features her detective Miss Marple and is considered a crime novel classic. The book was heavily promoted upon publication in 1950 as being Christie's fiftieth book, although in truth this figure could only be arrived at by counting in both UK and US short story collections. The storyline had previously been explored in Christie's Miss Marple short story "The Companion", where the characters also lived in Little Paddocks.
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A notice appears in the paper of Chipping Cleghorn: "A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6.30 pm. Friends accept this, the only intimation." This surprises Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks; however, she takes it in stride and prepares for guests that evening. The villagers are intrigued by the notice, and several of them appear with awkward reasons but definite interest. As the clock strikes 6.30, the lights go out and a door swings open, revealing a man with a blinding torch who demands the guests "Stick 'em up!" Most do so, believing it to be part of a game, but the game ends when shots are fired into the room. When the lights turn on, Miss Blacklock's ear is bleeding, from a bullet grazing her earlobe, and the gunman is dead on the ground. Dora Bunner ("Bunny") recognizes the gunman as Rudi Scherz, a foreigner who works as a receptionist at a local hotel, and who had asked Letitia for money a few days ago.
The scene suggests to the police that this is a strange suicide or accidental death, but Inspector Craddock is not satisfied. Craddock is advised to involve Miss Marple, currently a guest at the spa hotel where Scherz was employed, in the case, and the two work together. They learn that Scherz has a criminal background of petty theft and forgery. Scherz's girlfriend, a waitress at the spa, reveals that he had been paid to appear as the holdup man; he believed it was "a silly English joke". Craddock returns to Chipping Cleghorn, where Miss Marple stays with the local vicar's wife.
Establishing a motive for Scherz's attack on Miss Blacklock is difficult. She worked for the financier Randall Goedler and has done well for herself but is not wealthy. However, she may inherit a great deal of money; Randall Goedler's estate passed to his wife Belle, who is now frail and ill. When Belle dies, Miss Blacklock inherits everything, but if she predeceases Belle, the estate goes to the mysterious "Pip" and "Emma", children of Randall's estranged sister, Sonia.
Inspector Craddock discovers oil on the hinges of a door into the parlour, thought to be unused, and Bunny mentions that until recently there had been a table placed against the door. Craddock travels to Scotland to meet Belle; she mentions that Letitia had a beloved sister, Charlotte, who developed a goitre. Their father, a doctor, tried unsuccessfully to treat Charlotte, but she only withdrew further into herself as her goitre worsened. Their father died shortly before World War II, and Letitia gave up her job with Goedler and took her sister to Switzerland for surgery. The two sisters waited out the war in Switzerland, but before it was over, Charlotte died very suddenly. Letitia returned to England alone.
Miss Marple takes tea with Bunny, and Bunny reveals the recently oiled door she found with the Inspector. She is sure that Patrick Simmons, a young cousin of Letitia's, is not as he appears. Simmons, with his sister Julia and Phillipa Haymes, a young widow, is staying at Little Paddocks. Bunny is also certain there was a different lamp in the room on the night of the murder, but their tête-à-tête is interrupted when Letitia arrives.
Letitia arranges a birthday party for Bunny, complete with almost everyone who was at the house when Scherz was killed. She asks Mitzi the cook to make her special cake, which Patrick has nicknamed "Delicious Death". After the party, Bunny has a headeache, but she cannot find her recently purchased aspirin so takes some from a bottle in Letitia's room. The next day, Bunny is found dead. Miss Marple visits the mourning Miss Blacklock and asks to see photo albums which might contain pictures of Sonia Goedler, Pip and Emma's mother, but all photos of Sonia have been removed from the albums. When Miss Blacklock receives a letter from the real Julia Simmons, she confronts the impostor, who reveals herself to be "Emma"; however, she denies attempting to kill Miss Blacklock, and claims she has not seen her twin Pip.
Through deduction and re-enactment, Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd (two spinsters present at the time of the Scherz shooting) figure out that Miss Murgatroyd, who was behind the opened door and thus not blinded by the torch, could see who was in the room when the torch shone on their faces.. The two women conclude that the person who was not in the room could have left the room when the lights went out and come around behind Scherz and shot him and at Miss Blacklock. Just as Miss Murgatroyd remembers the one person not in the room, the phone rings, summoning Miss Hinchcliffe to the veterinarian. As Miss Hinchcliffe drives away, Murgatroyd runs into the driveway, shouting "She wasn't there!". When Miss Hinchcliffe returns, she meets with Miss Marple, and together they discover Murgatroyd's body, strangled. The distraught Hinchcliffe informs Miss Marple of Murgatroyd's cryptic statement.
When the vicar's cat shorts out a lamp at the vicarage, the final clue falls into place for Miss Marple. Inspector Craddock gathers everyone at Little Paddocks, where Mitzi claims to have seen Miss Blacklock shoot Scherz. But Craddock dismisses her and accuses Edmund Swettenham (who, with his widowed mother, was also present at the shooting) of being Pip. However, Phillipa Haymes comes forward and confesses she is Pip. Craddock accuses Edmund of wanting to marry a rich wife in Phillipa by murdering Letitia, but as Edmund denies this, a scream is heard from the kitchen, where they find Miss Blacklock attempting to drown Mitzi in the sink. When Miss Blacklock hears Dora Bunner's voice, she releases Mitzi and breaks down, and is arrested.
Miss Marple reveals the truth: it was not Charlotte who died in Switzerland, but Letitia. Aware that Letitia was in line to inherit a fortune, Charlotte posed as her deceased sister and returned to England, where few people knew her. She avoided people who knew Letitia well, such as Belle Goedler, and covered her throat with strings of pearls or beads to hide the scars from her goitre surgery. But Rudi Scherz could have exposed her, as he worked at the Swiss hospital where Charlotte had been treated and could identify her, which is why Charlotte killed him. Dora Bunner, whom Charlotte had taken into her confidence, was prone to slip-ups. On several occasions, she referred to Miss Blacklock as "Lotty" (short for "Charlotte") instead of "Letty" (short for "Letitia"), and her conversation with Miss Marple in the cafe proved fatal. Amy Murgatroyd was killed for realising that Charlotte was the one person whose face was not illuminated by Rudi Scherz's torch.
Miss Marple persuaded Mitzi and Edmund to play parts in tripping up Charlotte Blacklock; Phillipa's admission to being Pip was not planned, but Inspector Craddock managed to keep up the act and claim Edmund was after Phillipa's money. Mitzi had agreed to serve as the bait, and Miss Marple imitated Bunny's voice to cause Charlotte to break down. Ultimately, Phillipa and "Julia" inherit the Goedler fortune; Edmund and Phillipa get married and return to Chipping Cleghorn to live.
- Miss Jane Marple
- Inspector Dermot Eric Craddock
- Detective Sergeant Fletcher, assisting Craddock
- Constable Legg
- Sir Henry Clithering, retired commissioner of Scotland Yard, old friend of Miss Marple
References to other works
Edmund Swettenham announces to have written "a roaring farce in three acts" titled Elephants Do Forget. Agatha Christie later wrote a novel named Elephants Can Remember featuring Hercule Poirot. "Scherz" was the name of the Swiss publisher (Scherz Verlag) that published Five Little Pigs in 1944 in German.
Literary significance and reception
After five years of not reviewing any of Christie's detective novels, Julian MacLaren-Ross in The Times Literary Supplement was lavish in his praise of the book in the issue dated 23 June 1950: "A new novel by Mrs Agatha Christie always deserves to be placed at the head of any list of detective fiction and her fiftieth book, A Murder is Announced, establishes firmly her claim to the throne of detection. The plot is as ingenious as ever, the writing more careful, the dialogue both wise and witty; while suspense is engendered from the very start, and maintained skilfully until the final revelation: it will be a clever reader indeed who anticipates this, and though Miss Christie is as usual scrupulously fair in scattering her clues, close attention to the text is necessary if a correct solution of the mystery is to be arrived at before the astute Miss Marple unmasks the culprit." The review concluded, "Miss Christie has several surprises up her sleeve besides the main one, and (this much may be said without spoiling the reader’s pleasure) she once again breaks new ground by creating a weak and kindly murderer who is yet responsible for the deaths of three people: that such a character should, in the last analysis, seem credible, is a tribute to the author’s psychological acumen and originality of concept."
Maurice Richardson, in the 4 June 1950 issue of The Observer said, "For her fiftieth book she has chosen a snug, residential village setting with her favourite detective, silver-haired, needle-sharp spinster, Miss Marple, making a delayed appearance. Not quite one of her top notchers, but very smooth entertainment. The Prime Minister (Clement Attlee), who is her fervent admirer, might fittingly celebrate this jubilee by making her a Dame." (It took until 1971 for Christie to be awarded the DBE).
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 30 September 1950 opined that "A Murder is Announced displays all the adroit and well-bred legerdemain one has come to expect from Agatha Christie... This jubilee whodunit is as deft and ingenious a fabrication as Agatha Christie has contrived in many a year."
Robert Barnard: "Superb reworking of the standard Christie setting and procedures, marred only by an excess of homicide at the end. The book is distantly related to "The Companion", in The Thirteen Problems."
In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343–44 (26 December 2014 – 3 January 2015), the writers picked A Murder Is Announced as an "EW favorite" on the list of the "Nine Great Christie Novels".
Film, TV, theatrical adaptations
Leslie Darbon adapted the novel into a stage play in 1977. It was first presented at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, by Peter Saunders – who brought Christie's The Mousetrap to the stage – and then on 21 September 1977 at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, which he then owned. The play first toured Australia in 2013 with Judi Farr as Miss Marple, Robert Grubb as Inspector Craddock, Libby Munro as Phillipa Haymes, directed by Darren Yap.
The novel was adapted by Alan Plater and filmed in 1985 with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple and Ursula Howells as Miss Blacklock, directed by David Giles for the BBC series Miss Marple. Only a few changes were made: Mitzi was renamed Hannah and is said to be Swiss (in the book, her nationality is unknown) and in the novel the vicarage cat was male and called Tiglath Pileser. In the film the cat was female and called Delilah.
In 2005, it was part of the first season of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple which featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, Zoë Wanamaker as Letitia Blacklock, Keeley Hawes as Phillipa Haymes, Elaine Paige as Dora Bunner, Cherie Lunghi as Sadie Swettenham, and Catherine Tate as Mitzi. While the basic plot is retained from the novel, most of the characters in this adaptation have been heavily altered.
- 1950, Collins Crime Club (London), June 1950, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1950, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), June 1950, Hardcover, 248 pp
- 1951, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 229 pp
- 1953, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1958, Pan Books, Paperback, 204 pp (Great Pan 144)
- 1965, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 246 pp
- 1967, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 288 pp
- 1967, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 288 pp
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1950 UK first edition), 7 November 2005, Hardcover ISBN 0-00-720846-4
The novel was serialised in eleven parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday, 28 February to Saturday, 11 March 1950. Five instalments carried an illustration by long-term Express artist Andrew Robb. This version did not contain any chapter divisions and contained only about half of the text that appeared in the book publication, totally omitting chapters five, six, seven, fourteen and the epilogue. It had been planned for this serialisation to take place closer to the eventual book publication in June 1950 but it was pulled forward by Christie's literary agent Edmund Cork in an effort to boost interest at the ailing box office for the play Murder at the Vicarage.
In the US, the first publication was in the Chicago Tribune in forty-nine parts from Monday, 17 April to Monday, 12 June 1950.
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994; ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Times Literary Supplement, 23 June 1950 (p. 385)
- The Observer, 4 June 1950 (p. 8)
- The Guardian, 9 June 1950 (p. 4)
- Toronto Daily Star, 30 September 1950 (p. 16)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – rev. ed. (p. 198). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- "Binge! Agatha Christie: Nine Great Christie Novels". Entertainment Weekly (1343–44): 32–33. 26 December 2014.
- A Murder Is Announced (1956) on IMDb
- Christie, Agatha (1977). A Murder is Announced. adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon. ISBN 978-0573112959.
- About A Murder is Announced Archived 10 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Agata Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (1985) on IMDb
- Marple: A Murder Is Announced (2005) on IMDb
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD3 and NPL LON MLD3.
- Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography (p. 285). Collins, 1984; ISBN 0-00-216330-6