I have no qualms in admitting that I am a hardcore Agatha Christie, specially a huge Hercule Poirot fan. One of my main reading goals is to complete reading every Agatha Christie work and I am slowly working my way through it too. One of the mind blocks I am facing is to enter the Miss Marple series of the author. I faced huge disappointment reading The Caribbean Mystery, as the lead detective Miss Marple was neither as clever nor as interesting as Poirot. I had heard a lot of good things about this book, The Murder at the Vicarage. Since I had replenished all the Agatha Christie books I had on my shelf, I picked this one up. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Murder at the Vicarage, like all Christie’s books, has a murder, a list of suspects, clues and timelines, and Miss Marple successfully solving it with her deduction and theories. The premise was no different or extremely interesting when compared to the author’s best works. Yet, this book works because of its setting and few of the characters.
Colonel Lucius Prothoroe, a strict disciplinarian, not liked by many in the town, slightly hearing impaired, is found dead it the study of the Vicar- Leonard Clement. A list of suspects is immediately drawn.
1. Lawrence Redding- a young artist having an affair with Mrs Prothoroe.
2. Mrs Prothoroe- wife of Colonel Prothoroe, wanting to break from the shackles of her husband.
3. Lettice Prothoroe- daughter of the Colonel Prothoroe, a sad young girl wanting to lead a life of her own without her father’s interference
4. Mrs Lestrange – new in the neighbourhood, a strange woman with a secret history unknown to anyone
5. An outsider
Clement meets an agitated and confused Redding on his way to his study before he finds the dead Colonel. Even before he could lay his doubts on Redding, Redding himself surrenders to the police for committing the murder, only that he couldn’t have killed the Colonel. Dr Haydock’s findings and Redding’s own movements and alibi prove he couldn’t have committed the crime. Then who did it? Why did Redding surrender himself?
If you had seen the premise, there is no Miss Marple around. In a way, Miss Marple’s presence in the book is too few and that might be one of the reasons why this book worked for me. Most of the investigation is carried out by the Vicar Clement, Inspector Slack and Redding himself. Miss Marple, who is a part of the neighborhood, offers her theories and observations in between. We have statements gathered from everyone in the neighborhood to fix the timeline of both the deceased and all the suspects. We know someone is lying, and as a reader I was conducting my own investigation with all the clues presented. The character psychology was established so well I was trying to get into each one’s head, to measure each one’s need to see the Colonel dead. The victory for the author was I couldn’t get into her head. I could feel Clement’s frustration when the statements and the actual happenings don’t add up. Having read so many works of Christie’s, adding to that the numerous other crime fictions, I had a list of options for the culprit and the reasons for the murder. The actual ending did manage to be one of them making me feel a little proud but that doesn’t take away the intelligence of the author.
I loved how every character did have a motive to kill the Colonel. It’s a matter of weighing every motive. There was a point where I even suspected the Vicar, (Can’t forget The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). The plan maps of the Vicarage and the neighborhood helped in visualizing the physical premise of the story. The only problem I had with this book was Miss Marple. Alright, I accept Jane Marple can’t be another Hercule Poirot but I expected a little bit of more extraordinaire from her, just to make her stand out from normal human beings. I felt this book could have been a fantastic standalone if they had made Clement solve the entire case. It would have made no difference. I am not sure if I would pick another Miss Marple anytime soon. But that’s just the character.
The case and the book as a whole was excellent. Enjoyed reading Agatha Christie after a long time.