Monday, 14 July 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
Author: Agatha Christie
BLM Rating 8 / 10
Acquired at: Melbourne City Library

You know a holiday has been perfect when you've finished your latest read, end to end, in between all the other activities one's meant to do while away.

Melbourne is now in the throes of its miserably cold, wet, dark winter and the husband and I decided it was time for a quick getaway to sunnier shores. So off we scrambled after work on Friday to catch a flight that would take us up to Keswick Island off Mackay, at the southern tip of the famed Whitsunday islands.

For this quick weekend getaway, I packed my Kindle (unfinished books include Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise") and my latest Christie from Melbourne Library "Murder at the Vicarage".

Murder at the Vicarage is the first novel featuring Miss Marple and her shrewd intelligence (She did appear in a short story before this: "The Tuesday Night Club"). In this early appearance, Miss Marple's character is quite different to how she appears in later books such as 4.50 from Paddington or Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. She is one of those nosy and gossipy neighbours who misses nothing. Although the people in the village of St Mead like her, they do often get tired by her nosy nature :) In later books, she morphs into a slightly more modern, kinder version of herself.

Life in this sleepy British village in between the wars brings back memories of my childhood in a small Indian town in the 1980s. Neighbours know every detail of each other's lives and the slightest deviations from the norm send tongues wagging. Everyone in the village goes to the same church and are largely amiable, but several characters seem to have something at least slightly suspicious in their lives. Nothing important ever really happens here, but gossip is rampant. So when the much disliked church warden is found murdered in the Vicarage while the Vicar is away, there are multiple suspects, many questions to resolve and of course multiple people who are sure they have the correct suspect. When someone confesses to the crime soon after, it seems an open and shut case. But someone else soon confesses too and we are back to square one with numerous mini-mysteries to solve. Who called the Vicar away by telephone on a false pretext? Who threatened the nosy neighbour to not meddle into other people's affairs? What was in the mysterious suitcase the archaeologist's secretary was seen carrying into the woods? Why was a shot heard from the woods when the body was found in the Vicar's study? Why did the elegant newcomer-lady-in-town meet the murder victim the night before the murder? Why would three different people including the local curate confess to the crime? Why does an anonymous letter tell the Vicar to "watch his wife"?

Cleverly placed red herrings and clues abound in this delightful read and it has been the perfect holiday mystery novel - light, interesting, engaging and quick. While I wouldn't rate it as high as her later Miss Marple works, this is nevertheless another great one from the Queen of Crime.

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