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Literature / A Murder Is Announced

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'In an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out.'

'A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 5th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 pm. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.'

A Murder Is Announced is a 1950 mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

So goes the advertisement that stirs up the sleepy little village of Chipping Cleghorn. That night, a dozen people come together to witness the murder, including the inhabitants of Little Paddocks, all of them equally clueless about the situation. Or are they? When the clock strikes six thirty, the lights go out and a man bursts into the room with a flashlight, yelling "Stick 'em up!" Though the people all react differently, they still think it's just a game — until three gunshots are fired. Two of the bullets hit the wall and injure the hostess, while the third one hits and kills... the intruder. It is up to Miss Marple to solve the case.

Agatha Christie's 50th book. It has been adapted into several movies and miniseries, including a 2005 adaptation on ITV, and stage and radio plays.

The novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Bunny accidentally named once Letitia Blacklock "Lotty" instead of "Letty", as part of her confounding both nicknames and knowing she was really named Charlotte.
  • Action Girl: In their backstories, at least. Hinch was an Air Raid Precautions warden during the war, while Emma Stamfordis a.k.a. Julia was in the French resistance. Mitzi might have been one, but with her self-aggrandizing and histrionic nature it's uncertain.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Mrs. Easterbrook is said to be some thirty years younger than her husband Col. Easterbrook. They seem to be devoted to each other.
  • All for Nothing: Miss Marple, who is almost never wrong, concludes that Rudi Scherz probably had no idea that Miss Blacklock switched identities with her sister (see Blackmail Backfire below). So Miss Blacklock murdered three people, one of them a dear friend, and blew up her life on the strength of a panicky assumption, when she would've been better served by sitting tight and doing nothing.
  • Ambiguously Gay: It's implied that Miss Murgatroyd and Miss Hinchcliffe are lesbian partners. They live together and have a relationship that comes across as a couple, and Miss Hinchcliffe is filled with violent rage when Miss Murgatroyd is killed. Miss Hinchcliffe is also described as rather mannish, and at one point says that she hates men.
  • The Bait: Miss Marple talks Mitzi into taking this role; as a result the murderer is caught as she attempts to drown Mitzi in the sink.
  • Blackmail Backfire:
    • Exploited as part of Miss Marple's plan — Mitzi is to pretend she saw the murder through the kitchen keyhole to bait the killer into trying to silence her — with Miss Marple and Sergeant Fletcher lying in wait to catch the murderer in the act.
    • The Summation then reveals the original murder was Miss Blacklock's reaction to Rudi Scherz attempting to cadge money off her. Though in all likelihood, Scherz wasn't aware he had any basis on which to blackmail her — to most people the two sisters were more or less interchangeable, so the idea that Charlotte was impersonating Letitia was unlikely to occur to him. Scherz was very likely just a caddish young man simply trying to charm money out of an old woman, but Miss Blacklock was suspicious nonetheless, worried he might figure something out if he didn't simply reveal her secret by accident, so she killed him to be sure.
  • Black Market: Due to England maintaining rationing after the end of World War II (it wasn't fully ended until four years after the novel was published), most of the village of Chipping Cleghorn have an illegal barter system to obtain rare foodstuffs from the nearby farmers. Hinchliffe trades her pigs' bacon to obtain surplus butter to trade to the villagers for their surplus supplies; Edmund uses honey in exchange for Phillippa's vegetable marrows (zucchini and squash). Their reluctance in talking of this around the police results in minor red herrings, cleared up when Bunch explains the system to Detective Craddock.
  • Break the Cutie: The murderer's sympathetic backstory involves a lot of tragedy: Charlotte Blacklock suffered from a disfiguring deformity most of her life, isolating her with an emotionally abusive father who refused to let her obtain corrective surgery and turning her into a near-hermit with few friends. Then, when her father died and she could finally get the surgery, war broke out, and she waited out the war abroad in Switzerland, where her beloved sister, the real Letitia Blacklock died of pneumonia. Although as Miss Marple points out, many had it much worse without resorting to murder.
  • Butch Lesbian: Though never explicitly stated to be one, Hinchcliffe very much fits this trope. She is outspoken and coarse, with other characters describing her as having a "manly stance" and being very devoted to Amy Murgatroyd, and served in the local militia during the war.
  • Celibate Hero: When Detective Craddock implies that Letitia Blacklock had been Randall Goedler's mistress, Belle Goedler is quick to set him right, explaining that Letitia acted like Randall's big sister. According to Belle, Letitia had no use for men, never saw the point of getting romantically involved with anyone, and missed out on "all the fun" of being a woman. Oddly enough, this also applies to Charlotte, who stayed shut away for most of her youth due to a disfiguring goiter.
  • Clothing-Concealed Injury: The reason why Miss Blacklock always wore either a string of pearls or a necklace of cameos - to conceal the operation scar that marked her as Charlotte rather than Letitia.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The murders only happen because Rudi Scherz, with all of Britain to roam around in, happened to come across a woman he'd met in Switzerland years ago, and recognize her.
  • Crime After Crime: Charlotte went from forging a death receipt to committing three murders and attempting a fourth.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Described as a "Mittel Europa" refugee with a heavy German accent, Mitzi had seen her entire family executed during the war by the Nazis, and suffers extreme PTSD from her experiences. She reacts with fear to the police being outside the house, breaks down into hysterical screaming when she hears gunshots, and sees Phillipa as a Nazi because Phillipa is a cold, fair-skinned blonde. While the rest of the cast call her a "liar" and either make fun of her fears or dismiss them entirely, it's heavily implied that Mitzi's Jewish, especially with her references to the Nazis and the concentration camps.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: "Letitia" is really the other sister, Charlotte. The real Letitia is long dead. Reasons had to do with inheriting a large sum of money and thinking the fraud couldn't possibly hurt anyone.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: Miss Murgatroyd realizes "she wasn't there". Miss Hinchcliffe tells her they'll talk about it later—and Murgatroyd is murdered while Hinchcliffe is fetching a dog from the station.
  • Death by Recognition: Miss Murgatroyd falls victim to this while in her garden taking down the clothes. This dialogue is cut in the TV adaptations (since the murderer's voice would give them away).
    Miss Murgatroyd: (seeing someone approaching) Hello - do go inside, you'll get wet.
    Murderer: Let me help you. Here's your scarf. It's fallen on the ground. Shall I put it round your neck?
    Miss Murgatroyd: Oh, thank you... Yes, perhaps... (Murderer puts the scarf around her neck and strangles her to death with it)
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Patrick. After Julia aka "Emma" finds out that she's going to be coming into a lot of money, she blows him off and decides to take up a career on the stage.
  • Died on Their Birthday: Dora Bunner died just after her birthday party, having gone to rest in her bed. It was actually Letitia Blacklock, or rather her sister Charlotte, the real one having died years ago, who poisoned her.
  • Dirty Communists: Edmund Swettenham subscribes to the Daily Worker, much to the dismay of Mrs. Finch.
  • The Ditz: Miss Murgatroyd and Dora Bunner. Mrs. Easterbrook plays up to the trope, but is quickly revealed as a shrewd gold-digger using it as a facade.
  • Does Not Like Men: While theorizing about the murder, Miss Hinchcliffe states she only uses the male pronoun "he" because it's shorter, but she does add that "we all know what dirty pigs men are." She's wrong.
  • Elite School Means Elite Brain: One of the reasons why two residents are so proud of their Rev. Julian Harmon is that he studied in Cambridge.
  • English Rose: Inspector Craddock evaluates Phillipa Haymes and thinks of her as "a good-looking girl, a very English type with her pale ash-blonde hair and her rather long face."
  • Fair Play Whodunit: As she explains at the end, Miss Marple was able to deduce the identity of the killer immediately, based on information that was also available to the reader; she only needed evidence and the motive. The murder had to take place in complete darkness, therefore the fireplace couldn't be lit, therefore the central heating had to be turned on, which could only be arranged by Miss Blacklock. It's especially cheeky on Christie's part, as this information isn't just mentioned in a throwaway half-sentence, but rather something that almost every character mentions at some point, everybody openly wondering and discussing the huge cost of using the central heating to heat a single room that has a fireplace for party guests.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Jane Marple doesn't view Charlotte Blacklock's goitre as an excuse for the deaths of three persons, pointing others had it worse and still harmed nobody.
  • Funny Foreigner: In what now reads as cringeworthy Values Dissonance, Patrick and Julia treat Mitzi, the high-strung middle European refugee cook suffering PTSD, like one.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The source of a big Red Herring. Everyone assumes that Pip Stamfordis must be a man, leading them to suspect Patrick of being "him". But Pip also works as a shortening of Phillipa ("Pippa" would be more common for a girl, which is why Julia, who already knows her twin is female, is the first one who figures it out).
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Patrick slaps Mitzi after Mitzi won't stop screaming following the murder.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Subverted when Inspector Craddock accuses Edmund of going after Philipa, who's really "Pip", one of the missing twin daughters of Sophia Goedler in order to get at the fortune she will inherit after Belle Goedler's death, but both are playing parts to trap the murderer.
    • After she's revealed to be Emma, the second missing twin, Julia also admits to going after Patrick for just this reason. Letitia Blacklock initially names Patrick as one of her heirs in her will, and when Julia found out who he was, she went after him, and he fell in love with her "in a most gratifying way;" she planned to use their relationship to get close to Letitia and convince Letitia to include her in the inheritance. When the tables are turned and she is the one set to inherit, she rejects Patrick and rather hypocritically accuses him of being one.
    • After the killer is revealed, Miss Marple posits that Rudi Scherz was likely just attempting to chisel a lonely old woman out of her money and had no idea he could have blackmailed Miss Blacklock.
  • Gossipy Hens: Letitia's neighbours react to the murder advertisement exactly as planned, by showing up at her place at the appointed time and doing a very bad job of hiding their anticipation.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The police use the word "pussy" to describe older women who gossip a lot and know everything. This leads to Henry Clithering describing Miss Marple as "my own particular, one and only, four-starred pussy. The super pussy of all old pussies."
  • Hero of Another Story: Emma Stamfordis had a very exciting life before the events of the book, being raised all over Europe by a criminal father before eventually joining the French Resistance.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: There's a strong subtext between Odd Couple housemates Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd, but the exact nature of their relationship is not specified. Hinch's vengeful rage at the murderer of Murgatroyd is telling.
  • His Name Is...: Poor Miss Murgatroyd. Also a case of Cannot Spit It Out, since she had plenty of time to finish the sentence.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: When Emma Stamfordis, one of the two people who had the most to gain from Letitia Blacklock dying, is found to be in the area, she states that she served with the French Resistance during the war and if she had taken a shot at Letitia that night, she'd have done a lot worse than just grazing her ear.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character:
    • Close to the end, it's revealed that Miss Blacklock's niece Julia Simmons is really Emma Stamfordis, one of the prime suspects in the case. After that, Patrick Simmons does talk a bit about the character of his real sister, but the latter never makes an appearance.
    • It is also revealed that the "Letitia" we have gotten to know is really Charlotte impersonating her sister, and the real Letitia never makes an appearance as she died before the story began.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Twofold, when Phillipa is presented with Mitzi's claim of overhearing a suspicious conversation with Rudi Scherz. She responds that she "was nowhere near the house that morning", and while she's quick to explain that she was working elsewhere every morning, Craddock doesn't remember ever bringing up the time of day. It doesn't amount to much, however, as he reasons that several people might have mentioned when Rudi stopped by. It turns out that she was talking to a man that morning, but it was her supposedly-dead husband. He wasn't actually killed in action, he deserted, so she tells everybody he's dead and doesn't want the ruse exposed.
  • Inheritance Murder: It is suspected that the person who attempted to kill Miss Blacklock may have been the mysterious Pip or Emma, who were next in line after her to inherit a fortune from Belle Goedler. This trope is Double Subverted, because it is actually Miss Blacklock herself who murdered Rudi Scherz to stop him from exposing the fact that she was posing as her deceased sister, who had actually been the one in line to inherit.
  • Interface Spoiler: Bizarrely inverted. The book continues to refer to Emma Stamfordis as Julia Simmons even after the reveal - dialogue tags and even the dialogue itself.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: Julia mentions being amused by pictures of Miss Blacklock as a young woman in the fashions of The Roaring '20s. Patrick remarks that in thirty years' time, it'll be Julia's turn to cringe at what she's wearing now.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Even though the killer loved one of the victims, she was killed out of fear that she was inadvertently revealing too much about the first murder.
  • La Résistance: Emma was involved with the French version.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: Philippa "Pip" and Edmund.
  • Last-Name Basis: "Hinch" and Amy Murgatroyd. Miss Hinchliffe's first name is never even revealed.
  • Leg Focus:
    • Julia sticks out "a well-shaped leg in a sheer stocking" and proclaims "I've got my best stockings on."
    • Inspector Craddock admires "a pair of nice legs encased in breeches" when Phillipa climbs down from a tree (she's working as a gardener).
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: The one you would least expect. It's the burglar, the man waving the gun, who's found dead when the lights are turned back on.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Julia is Philippa's sister.
  • Medication Tampering: The second murder was done by poison masquerading as aspirin.
  • Mystery Magnet: When Miss Marple goes to Chipping Cleghorn with the excuse of visiting the vicar's wife, "Bunch" Harmon (who is a distant niece of hers), the vicar remarks, "A man dies in highly suspicious circumstances in Chipping Cleghorn, and suddenly Aunt Jane is coming to stay." Bunch isn't about to argue with him.
  • Never One Murder: The mystery begins when an advertisement is placed in the local Gazette announcing a murder that evening. Small-time crook Rudi Scherz seemingly attempts to shoot Miss Blacklock, then kills himself. Miss Blacklock's companion Dora is poisoned after taking aspirin left at Miss Blacklock's bedside, and as the investigation continues, neighbor Miss Murgatroyd is strangled shortly after realizing she saw a key moment in the original murder attempt — or rather, she didn't see the killer where they were supposed to have been at the moment when they actually shot Rudi Scherz. The killer also makes one final attempt at drowning Mitzi when the latter suggests that they witnessed more than they had previously said.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The murderer of all people falls victim to this. Charlotte Blacklock's decision to let Dora Bunner come to live with her proved to be a terrible mistake, because Dora, despite approving of Charlotte's subterfuge to gain Letitia's inheritence, was unreliable and unwittingly put her plan in danger.
  • Noodle Incident: The police discover something unpleasant about Mrs. Easterbrook's past, but as it isn't relevant to the murder they ignore it and we never hear any more details.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • A minor aversion that is Played for Laughs. While dining with Miss Marple, Bunch Harmon mentions Julia Simmons and quotes a line of poetry, "Julia, pretty Julia is peculiar", at which instance the sulky waitress, who is also called Julia, assumes Bunch is talking about her and takes offense, before Bunch clears up the misunderstanding. Something of a Double Subversion, because Julia Simmons turns out to be an imposter.
    • Played for Drama by Dora always mixing up Letty and Lotty, revealing that they aren't actually the same person.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Rev. Julian Harmon, an Oxford alumnus, named his cat Tiglath Pileser after an Assyrian king.
  • Red Herring:
    • The gun shot which was first murder is designed to look self-inflicted.
    • The second murder, which took place after the first murder was established as a murder, was designed to look like an attempt to murder Miss Blacklock.
    • The death of Philippa Haymes' husband in a car accident turns out to be completely incidental, and has nothing to do with the main murder plot.
  • The Reveal: A whole chain reaction of them at the Summation Gathering.
  • Ripping Off the String of Pearls: Miss Blacklock accidentally breaks her pearl necklace, and her horrified reaction makes everyone wonder why the necklace is so important to her. It was hiding the operation scar that would have identified her as Charlotte, not Letitia.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Miss Hinchcliffe is rather gruff in her dealings with Miss Murgatroyd, but shows deep affection when pressed.
  • Screaming Woman: Mitzi, frequently, on what seems to be very little provocation, until you realize that she's a survivor of the Nazi atrocities who has seen her entire family killed and that her reactions are due to extreme PTSD.
  • Separated at Birth: Philippa and Julia are really long-lost siblings Pip and Emma.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Miss Marple expresses her hunch that Rudi was a "fall guy" for the real mastermind. Then she hesitates and says "I may have got the term wrong."
    Miss Marple: I am not very clever about Americanisms—and I understand they change very quickly.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: A rather random moment describes Mitzi as having "a well-developed bosom heaving under a tight jersey."
  • Solomon Divorce: The above mentioned Separated at Birth: is caused by Pip and Emma's parents separating if not actually divorcing.
  • Summation Gathering: Subverted — it's a decoy to 'frame' a willing Edmund and put Miss Blacklock off guard. A real summation/After-Action Villain Analysis follows after Miss Blacklock is caught attempting to drown Mitzi in the kitchen sink.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Downplayed. The murderer is shown as a weak and kindly person who was driven to kill as a result of the consequences of her unwise actions, and who was tired of living a horrible life - but, as Miss Marple points out, others had had it worse and had got back on their feet without having to resort to murder.
  • Title Drop Chapter: The opening chapter, in which the bizarre advertisement appears in the paper and causes so much consternation, is titled "A Murder Is Announced."
  • Tragic Villain: Charlotte Blacklock never wanted to kill anyone, only doing so out of fear and because she thought there was no other way.
  • Unreliable Expositor: All of the other characters flat-out call Mitzi a liar and accuse her of making up stories in order to gain sympathy for being a war refugee, and Mitzi unwittingly provides several red herrings. While Letitia Blacklock thinks Mitzi likely did see some of her family killed, Letitia also states that she thinks the stories are greatly exaggerated—although she also says she understands the exaggeration, because English people are prejudiced against refugees and only feel sympathy for the ones with the worst possible sob stories. However, Letitia herself is an unreliable source, as she has a good reason to want Mitzi seen as a liar: Letitia is an imposter and the murderer, and can't be sure what Mitzi has actually seen.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Charlotte's father, whose refusal to let her have an operation for her goitre was largely to blame for her becoming a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds and ultimately a multiple murderess. Miss Marple lampshades this.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Charlotte Blacklock. Embittered by suffering for the entirety of her young life from a disfiguring goitre and a terrible father who didn't believe in having it operated on, she finally has it removed with her sister Letitia's help. Letitia is in line to inherit a fortune that Charlotte believes will make up for all her suffering, but then Letitia dies, meaning the fortune will instead go to Belle Goedler's next of kin, her sister-in-law Sonia's children Pip and Emma. Charlotte, unwilling to give up on the inheritance, takes her sister's identity, and ends up resorting to murder to prevent her secret from being exposed. Miss Marple notes that people who feel like the world owes them are very dangerous.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: In her former country (presumably Nazi Germany), Mitzi was an intellectual with a degree in Economics and complains about being stuck working as a cook.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Letitia's sudden death by pneumonia, preventing Charlotte from enjoying the inheritance that would have, in her eyes, made up for the years of affliction she suffered.

Adaptations provide examples of:

  • Accidental Innuendo: In the Leslie Darbon stage adaptation:
    Patrick: We'll just go and feed the ducks or something, then.
    • Not actually innuendo in-universe, but given the rather ridiculous placement (delivered by Patrick immediately after being almost caught — or actually caught, depending on the production — apparently passionately kissing his own sister) "feeding the ducks" has been known to become a production in-joke.
  • Adapted Out: The Leslie Darbon stage adaptation omits the Easterbrooks, Hinchcliffe, Murgatroyd, the vicar, his wife and his cat, and Rudi Scherz's girlfriend. The Easterbrooks are mentioned as being out of town, and the vicar otherwise engaged, so it's arguably an Alternate Universe rather than a simple Retcon.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Edmund has a lengthy passage with Phillipa at Dayas Hall in the book which serves greatly to humanise him and make him more likeable. It doesn't appear in the adaptations.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Mitzi is renamed Hannah in the Joan Hickson adaptation; and the vicar's cat Tiglath Pileser is renamed Delilah.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Mitzi. The book implies she is a German Jew; the play implies she is from Soviet-occupied Hungary.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Patrick is generally more likable in the Joan Hickson adaptation, and is shown to be worthier of Emma.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the stage play, Patrick's Navy service isn't mentioned; nor is Emma's time with the French Resistance and resulting excellent marksmanship. There is no mention of Edmund finally getting published, as he did in the book; he remains stuck in the stereotype of "useless rich boy with writing hobby".
  • British Stuffiness: The 1985 adaptation opens with the following conversation:
    Mrs Easterbrook: Archie... there's going to be a murder.
    Col Easterbrook: What time?
    Mrs Easterbrook: Seven o'clock this evening.
    Col Easterbrook: Short notice.
  • Composite Character: In the Darbon version, the vicar's wife Bunch doesn't appear, so her role of providing humorous commentary that makes the rest of the room cringe is split between Patrick and Bunny.
  • Did Not Get the Girl:
    • In the Darbon play, it's left ambiguous in the script and can go either way depending on the production.
    • In the 1985 BBC version with Joan Hickson, averted.
  • Everybody Smokes: Or rather, everybody *talks* about smoking in the 1985 miniseries (Miss Blacklock was about to offer cigarettes to the guests when the lights went out; Philippa was looking for her lighter at the same time; Bunny complains about a nasty cigarette burn after the incident; and so on), but Inspector Craddock is the only person we actually see light up.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The Darbon play begins on Friday 13 October. Although the play is careful to avoid dating itself more precisely than mid-century, if you take this literally it means the play is set in 1950, the year in which the book was published.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In the 1985 version, the exchange in which the sulky waitress Julia overhears Bunch Harmon quoting the line "Julia, pretty Julia is peculiar" and tells her she's not a Peculiar (she's always been a good C of E) ends with Julia saying "Thank you very much, Mrs Marple." Miss Marple does a double take.
  • Not What It Looks Like: From an audience perspective. In the stage play, Patrick and Emma kiss long before it's explained, or even hinted at, that she is Emma and not his sister Julia.

Alternative Title(s): Miss Marple A Murder Is Announced