The Murder at the Vicarage
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Pages||256 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Giant's Bread|
|Followed by||The Sittaford Mystery|
The Murder at the Vicarage is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in October 1930 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
It is the first novel to feature the character of Miss Marple and her village of St Mary Mead. This first look at St Mary Mead led a reviewer in 1990 to ask why these are called cosy mysteries: "Our first glimpse of St Mary Mead, a hotbed of burglary, impersonation, adultery and ultimately murder. What is it precisely that people find so cosy about such stories?"
Colonel Lucius Protheroe is wealthy, active in the church and a magistrate. Yet almost no one in his village, St Mary Mead, likes him; the vicar, Rev. Leonard Clement, endures his public insults while setting up an evening meeting to discuss irregularities in the accounts, and Protheroe's 16 year old daughter Lettice cannot bear him. Both express a wish for him to die, out of frustration with him. Clement sees Mrs Anne Protheroe in tight embrace with Lawrence Redding, clearly tired of her husband. That evening, the Colonel is found murdered in the Vicar's study.
Vicar Clement is called away to a home two miles distant. He walks there and back, learning that they had not called him. He is late for the meeting with Protheroe, set for 6:15 pm. He meets Redding, who is leaving the vicarage. Upon entering the study, he finds Protheroe bent over at the desk, shot in the head, dead. He calls Dr Haydock, who arrives at 6:55 and estimates time of death as 30 minutes earlier. Dr Haydock calls the police. A note is found beneath the corpse, along with the Vicar's clock. The note is marked with a time of 6:20 pm and the clock is set to 6:22. The note is odd, saying I can no longer wait for you, though it was made clear to Protheroe upon his arrival that the vicar would not arrive before 6:30 and Protheroe seemed perfectly willing to wait at the time.
News spreads quickly in St Mary Mead. No one, including Miss Jane Marple outdoors in her garden, hears a shot from the study. Several in the village did hear an odd sort of shot from the woods, but later than 6:25. Inspector Slack and Chief Constable Melchett arrive to inspect the scene and search for clues. The inspector is thorough, but not quite as thorough as Miss Marple in gathering information and making sense of it. The Inspector scorns the older women in the village, single or widowed, despite their observant ways. Rather soon, two people confess to the murder. Lawrence Redding, the artist who uses a building on the vicarage property as his studio, confesses to the crime. The police do not believe him. Next, Mrs Anne Protheroe confesses to committing the murder. Nor is she believed, because others saw her outdoors. Other possible suspects include Archer, a man treated harshly by Protheroe for poaching; Mrs Lestrange, who appeared recently in the village and sees only Dr Haydock. The other outsider is Dr Stone, an archaeologist and his assistant, Gladys Cram, who are working at a site on the Protheroe estate. Miss Marple has a list of seven in her mind.
Miss Marple sees Miss Cram carrying a suitcase into the woods at midnight, and Clement later finds the suitcase. Miss Marple's nephew Raymond West has met Stone and does not recognize the man claiming to be him. In the suitcase is valuable silver belonging to the Protheroes. Slack learns that Stone is not an archeologist but a thief with a long record.
Miss Marple compares people in new situations with people she has observed in village life, and then thinks out what is really happening, never relying of what people say, but on what she can verify. The Vicar respects her intelligence. Clement is interested to find the murderer, as is Miss Marple, as are the police. The police send the note to a specialist, who says that it was not written by Protheroe.
Melchett shares this news with Clement. Clement and Melchett proceed to Curate Hawes’ rooms because of a phone call of confession. Hawes is barely alive, and has received the actual note written by Protheroe from Redding on the previous evening, which accuses Hawes of stealing funds from the church. Dr Haydock saves Hawes' life; Redding had substituted a dangerous drug in place of the usual medication, hoping Hawes, dead, would appear as the murderer, and that is what Melchett and Clement believe. Miss Marple arrives at Hawes' rooms, because the local phone operator first mistakenly connects Melchett's call to Haydock to her phone before making the connection correctly. She is glad that Hawes will survive and then explains who the murderer is. Melchett is unwilling to believe her; at the end, he knows she is right. No one heard a shot because a silencer was used on the pistol owned by Redding. Redding places the pistol with silencer in a potted plant when he visits Clement earlier in the afternoon. Anne Protheroe then shoots her husband at 6:25 after walking past Miss Marple and showing how she carried no purse, no gun. Then Anne meets up with Redding, and both are seen in public by 6:30 pm. Redding returns to the vicarage just before Clement returns, removing the pistol and actual note, and placing the misleading note. Miss Marple sees Redding as a handsome man with many talents, and ruthless, wanting marriage only with a wife who brought wealth. A hint is dropped that someone saw Redding switch the medication for poor Hawes. Redding met with Anne at night outside her home, where the police overheard their conversation and used the facts to bring the pair to trial.
Lettice explains that Mrs Lestrange is her mother, the first wife of Protheroe, who deserted him. She is mortally ill and wants to be near her daughter.
- Miss Marple: Spinster living in St Mary Mead, next to the vicar. She is observant and knows human behavior, recognized in her village as astute and generally correct.
- Colonel Lucius Protheroe: Wealthy man, who is the churchwarden and the local magistrate in St Mary Mead who lives in Old Hall. He has grown deaf, and shouts a lot as a result. He is murdered.
- Anne Protheroe: Second wife of Colonel Protheroe, young and attractive.
- Lettice Protheroe: Colonel Protheroe's teenage daughter from his first marriage.
- Leonard Clement: The Vicar of St Mary Mead and narrator of the story, in his early 40s.
- Griselda Clement: Young wife of the Vicar, 25 years old and a happy person.
- Dennis Clement: Teenage nephew of the Vicar, part of his household.
- Mary Adams: Housemaid and cook for the Vicar. She dates (“walks out with”) Bill Archer.
- Mr Hawes: Curate to Vicar Clement, newly arrived in the parish. He had suffered acute Encephalitis lethargica prior to coming to St Mary Mead.
- Mrs Martha Price-Ridley: Widow and gossip who lives next to the Vicarage, at the end of the road.
- Miss Amanda Hartnell: Spinster in St Mary Mead.
- Miss Caroline Wetherby: Spinster in St Mary Mead who lives next to Miss Hartnell.
- Dr Haydock: Doctor for St Mary Mead village.
- Lawrence Redding: A painter who fought in the Great War. He uses a building on the Vicarage property as his studio.
- Mrs Estelle Lestrange: Elegant woman who recently came to the village, keeping to herself.
- Raymond West: Miss Marple's nephew, a writer who usually lives in London.
- Rose and Gladdie: Parlour maid and kitchen maid at Old Hall, Colonel Protheroe’s house. Gladdie shared with Redding what she overheard when Mrs Lestrange visited Old Hall.
- Bill Archer: Local man who has been jailed on and off for poaching by Protheroe in his role as magistrate.
- Inspector Slack: The local police detective, who is active despite his name, and often abrasive.
- Colonel Melchett: Chief Constable for the county.
- Dr Stone: An archaeologist who digs on Colonel Protheroe's land.
- Gladys Cram: Secretary to the archaeologist Stone, in her early twenties.
Literary significance and reception
Reviews at the time of publication were generally positive about Miss Marple, dubious about the how the murder happened, but pleased at Christie's writing style. A later review finds the story more to the taste of 1990, and likes the village and its people. The author, looking back on her own work in her autobiography in the 1970s, thought her main plot "sound", but perhaps there were too many characters and subplots.
The Times Literary Supplement of 6 November 1930 posed the various questions as to who could have killed Protheroe and why, and concluded, "As a detective story, the only fault of this one is that it is hard to believe the culprit could kill Prothero [sic] so quickly and quietly. The three plans of the room, garden, and village show that almost within sight and hearing was Miss Marple, who 'always knew every single thing that happened and drew the worst inferences.' And three other 'Parish cats' (admirably portrayed) were in the next three houses. It is Miss Marple who does detect the murderer in the end, but one suspects she would have done it sooner in reality".
The review of the novel in The New York Times Book Review of 30 November 1930 begins, "The talented Miss Christie is far from being at her best in her latest mystery story. It will add little to her eminence in the field of detective fiction." The review went on to say that, "the local sisterhood of spinsters is introduced with much gossip and click-clack. A bit of this goes a long way and the average reader is apt to grow weary of it all, particularly of the amiable Miss Marple, who is sleuth-in-chief of the affair." The reviewer summarised the set-up of the plot and concluded, "The solution is a distinct anti-climax."
H C O'Neill in The Observer of 12 December 1930 said that, "here is a straightforward story which very pleasantly draws a number of red herrings across the docile reader's path. There is a distinct originality in her new expedient for keeping the secret. She discloses it at the outset, turns it inside out, apparently proves that the solution cannot be true, and so produces an atmosphere of bewilderment."
In the Daily Express of 16 October 1930 Harold Nicolson said, "I have read better works by Agatha Christie, but that does not mean that this last book is not more cheerful, more amusing, and more seductive than the generality of detective novels." In a short review dated 15 October 1930, the Daily Mirror review declared, "Bafflement is well sustained."
Robert Barnard wrote sixty years later that this is "Our first glimpse of St Mary Mead, a hotbed of burglary, impersonation, adultery and ultimately murder. What is it precisely that people find so cosy about such stories?" He found the resolution a bit hard to believe, yet the story is more appealing to readers of 1990 than to those in 1930. "The solution boggles the mind somewhat, but there are too many incidental pleasures to complain, and the strong dose of vinegar in this first sketch of Miss Marple is more to modern taste than the touch of syrup in later presentations."
Christie herself later wrote: "Reading Murder at the Vicarage now, I am not so pleased with it as I was at the time. It has, I think, far too many characters, and too many sub-plots. But at any rate the main plot is sound."
In a discussion with J K Rowling in 2014, author Val McDermid remarked that The Murder at the Vicarage is the book that got her interested in detective stories; she described the humour in that novel and said that Christie did not get enough credit for the humour in her detective mysteries. McDermid quoted from the descriptions of the four women in the village, particularly “Miss Hartnell who was feared by the poor”, for its humour and the terse description that conveyed so much.
Allusions in other novels
The Vicar and his wife, Leonard and Griselda Clement, who made their first appearance in this novel, continue to show up in Miss Marple stories. Notably, they feature in The Body in the Library (1942) along with Slack and Melchett, and 4.50 from Paddington (1957).
The character of Miss Marple had previously appeared in short stories published in magazines starting in December 1927. These earlier stories were collected in book form in The Thirteen Problems in 1932.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The Murder at the Vicarage (1949 play)
The BBC adapted the book into a film on 25 December 1986, with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, Paul Eddington as the vicar, and Polly Adams as Anne Protheroe. The adaptation was generally very close to the original novel with four major exceptions: the trap which exposes the killer is changed to involve another murder attempt, the characters of Dennis, Dr. Stone, and Gladys Cram were deleted, Bill Archer is present in the kitchen while the murder takes place, and Anne commits suicide out of remorse instead of being tried.
It was presented again on the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple by Granada Television in 2004 with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, Tim McInnerny as the vicar, Derek Jacobi as Colonel Protheroe, and Janet McTeer as Anne. This version eliminates the characters of Dr. Stone and Gladys Cram, replacing them with the elderly French Professor Dufosse and his granddaughter Hélène.
Other changes include the elimination of Miss Weatherby, the changing of Mrs. Price-Ridley's first name from Martha to Marjorie, the renaming of Bill Archer to Frank Tarrent, and the addition of a plotline in which the Colonel stole 10,000 francs from the French Resistance, which led to the death of an agent.[clarification needed]
Two major departures from the book are the portrayal of Miss Marple as Anne's close friend and the addition of a series of flashbacks to December 1915, when a younger Miss Marple was engaged in a forbidden love affair with a married soldier.
In both versions, the vicar's role is reduced and he does not participate in the investigation since his presence as the narrator was unnecessary in a filmed version.
Graphic novel adaptation
The Murder at the Vicarage was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 20 May 2008, adapted and illustrated by "Norma" (Norbert Morandière) (ISBN 0-00-727460-2). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of L'Affaire Protheroe.
- 1930, Collins Crime Club (London), October 1930, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1930, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1930, Hardcover, 319 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 686), 255 pp
- 1948, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, 223 pp
- 1961, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1976, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 251 pp, ISBN 0-00-231543-2
- 1978, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead and Company), Hardcover, 251 pp
- 1980, Ulverscroft Large Print Edition, Hardcover, 391 pp, ISBN 0-7089-0476-9
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1930 UK first edition), 12 September 2005, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720842-1
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in fifty-five instalments from Monday, 18 August to Monday, 20 October 1930.
The dedication of the book reads:
The subject of this dedication is Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks (1919–2004) who was the daughter of her first marriage to Archibald Christie (1890–1962) and Agatha Christie's only child. Rosalind was eleven years of age at the time of the publication of this book.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 14.
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B A (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 86. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- Marcum, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Classic Years 1930 - 1934". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 198. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- "Encephalitis Lethargica Information Page". US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
Between 1917 to 1928, an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread throughout the world, but no recurrence of the epidemic has since been reported.
- "Review". The Times Literary Supplement. 6 November 1930. p. 921.
- "Review". The New York Times Book Review. 30 November 1930. p. 32.
- O'Neill, H C (12 December 1930). "Review". The Observer. p. 6.
- Nicholson, Harold (16 October 1930). "Review". Daily Express. p. 6.
- "Review". Daily Mirror. 15 October 1930. p. 20.
- Christie, Agatha (1991) . Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. Berkley. p. 422. ISBN 9780425127391.
- "Val McDermid interviews JK Rowling (Robert Galbraith) at Harrogate International Festival 2014" (video). September 2014. 14-16 minutes in. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
- John (21 August 2019). "Christie's 'Murder at the Vicarage' Bellatrix Lestrange's Debut in Fiction?". Hogwarts Professor Thoughts and Ideas. Retrieved 11 January 2020.