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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.'

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.

Published in 1950 as Agatha Christie's 50th book and adapted into several movies and miniseries, including a 2005 adaptation on ITV.


The novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Bunny accidentally named once Letitia Blacklock "Lotty" instead of "Letty", as part of her confonding 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.
  • 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.
  • Black Market: Due to England maintaining rationing after the end of World War II, 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 as 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.
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  • 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 the father died and she could finally get the surgery, war broke out, forcing her into exile in another country, where her beloved sister died of tuberculosis. 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, Bel Goedler is quick to set him right, explaining that Letitia acted like Randall's big sister. According to Bel, 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.
  • 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.
  • Crime After Crime: Charlotte went from forging a death receipt to committing three murders and attempting a fourth.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Mitzi had seen at least one of her relatives being executed during the war.
  • 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.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Patrick.
  • Dirty Communists: Edmund Swettenham suscribes 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.
  • 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 Eastern European refugee cook suffering PTSD, like one.
  • 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 Bel 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: The one you would least expect.
  • Little Old Lady Investigates: Miss Marple is of course the Trope Codifier, but she's also aware about it: "A policeman asking questions is open to the grave of suspicion, but an old lady asking questions is just an old lady asking questions."
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Julia is Philippa's sister.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Rev. Julian Harmon, an Oxford alumnus, named his cat Tiglath Pileser after an Assyrian king.
  • Red Herring: 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 very little provocation. Luckily, she is also a brilliant cook.
  • Separated at Birth: Philippa and Julia are really long-lost siblings Pip and Emma.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Unreliable Narrator: 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 there might be a grain of truth in Mitzi's stories & that she likely did see some of her family killed, Letitia also states that the stories are greatly exaggerated.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Charlotte Blacklock
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: Mitzi complains about being stuck to work as cook, since, in her former country, she used to be an intellectual.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Letitia's death, 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 -
    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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: In the 1985 adaptation, during the conversation at the Bluebird Cafe, Bunny mentions Edmund Swettenham is a communist, to which Miss Marple mutters into her cup, "Well, he must be quite lonely in Chipping Cleghorn."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The 1985 BBC television adaptation introduces several examples.
  • 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, not Julia.


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