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Literature / The Murder at the Vicarage

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Detective novel by Agatha Christie. This is the first novel (but not the first story) to feature Miss Marple, the harmless old lady who lives at the idyllic village of St Mary Mead and just happens to constantly bump into murders. She is notable for her ability to draw parallels between murder mysteries and ordinary village incidents. She is Christie's second most famous but personal favorite detective.

In the aforementioned St Mary Mead, there is a general climate of harmony and good-will and everyone gets along. Everyone, that is, except Colonel Protheroe, the most disliked man in the village. His daughter wishes he would do a good thing and die, and even the vicar observes that killing him would be a service to the townsfolk. Then, Protheroe is found murdered in the vicar's study. His unfaithful wife and her artist lover both confess to the murder, to the great confusion of Inspector Slack. It's up to Miss Marple to make sense of this story and find out who really did it...

The book is narrated in first person by the vicar, Leonard Clement.

It was adapted by BBC in 1986 with Joan Hickson in the role of Miss Marple and again by ITV in 2004 with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. There is also a 1949 play with Barbara Mullen and a graphic novel released by Harper Collins in 2008.

Christie dedicated the book to her daughter and only child, Rosalind Hinks.

WARNING: Heavy unconcealed spoilers ahead.

This novel contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Lawrence Redding, a handsome young man who apparently "does everything well". He's a talented artist, a good shot, excellent at games, has charming personality, can tell a good story.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Dennis is infatuated with Lettice, who's in love with Lawrence Redding, who's in love with her stepmother, who's married to Lettice's father.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: At the start of the novel, Len's so irritated with Griselda, he contemplates writing to the archbishop that the Church should bring back celibacy into the clergy. Despite this, they are Happily Married, to the point that when Leonard thinks that Miss Marple is suggesting that Griselda is unfaithful, he immediately leapt to her defense.
  • Babies Ever After: At the end of the story Griselda reveals to Clement that she's pregnant
  • Black Widow: Anne Protheroe murders her husband at the instigation of her lover.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Miss Marple is able to reconstruct how the murder was done, but not to find any evidence solid enough for the police to act on, so she suggests they set a watch and then drop the suspect a remark she devises that will mean nothing to an innocent man but make a guilty man suspect they've got something on him. His reaction gives them all the evidence they need.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Col. Protheroe is killed with a single pistol shot to the back of the head.
  • Characterization Marches On: Miss Marple is at times a rather bossy, nosy, unpleasant woman throughout the course of the book. Having realized that she wanted to write more stories with Marple as the detective, Christie toned down on some of these characteristics for later mysteries.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Len narrates that Lawrence Redding "does everything well", and gives several examples, one of which becomes important at the climax: after his innocence is clearly demonstrated by his shocked reaction to the murder and his surprise at the revelation of various details that would have been known only to the murderer, Miss Marple pulls the rug out by reminding us that he's a talented amateur actor.
  • Connected All Along: Lettice reveals that Mrs. Lestrange is her mother.
  • Continuity Nod: St. Mary Mead, which from this novel for the next 45 years or so would be the home of Miss Jane Marple, was actually first mentioned in earlier novel The Mystery of the Blue Train, a Hercule Poirot novel.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Vicar Clement does his level best not to offend his parishioners, but can't help slipping in a snide remark or two when they start to get too melodramatic.
    Miss Weatherby: I do shrink from publicity. And to stand up in court!
    Vicar Clement: (drily) In special cases, they let witnesses sit down.
    • His snark comes through much more often in the narration.
  • The Ditz: Whether or not Lettice Protheroe, who rather ostentatiously can't even seem to tell what day and time it is, is using this trope for the purposes of Obfuscating Stupidity—and if so, to what extent—is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Miss Marple has one when a neglected houseplant gives her the answer to the one part of the puzzle she had not been able to figure out.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Played with. Miss Marple talks about having "seven suspects" whom she believes is the most likely murderer, and this list comprises pretty much all the major characters, including the Vicar himself. However, she doesn't name her suspects until the actual killer is arrested.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The novel is told from the perspective of Vicar Clement, who is much more involved with the police investigations (what with the murder taking place in his house) than Miss Marple herself.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Leonard proposed marriage to Griselda after only knowing her for 24 hours. Even he's not sure why.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: A key to the murder plot.
    • Lawrence and Anne plant several clues to make it look like Colonel Protheroe was shot at 6:20, right when Anne came to the vicarage to see if her husband was there. The police are meant to see through these clues and assume the crime was committed later.
    • Lettice plants one of Anne's earrings at the crime scene, convinced that her stepmother was guilty but unable to find any evidence of it.
  • Frame-Up: Curate Hawes confesses to an entirely different crime and appears to commit suicide, when it was actually Lawrence switching out Hawes' medication. However, at first it does appear that he's confessing to the murder.
  • Gossipy Hens: Several of them. Miss Marple humorously admits she is one at one point.
  • Happily Married: Played with to great and hilarious effect with the Clements.
  • Henpecked Husband: The Vicar, occasionally, as a side effect of his utter devotion to his wife. Even when their completely incompetent maid Mary attempts to leave their services, Leonard reluctantly obeys Griselda's plea to dissuade the girl, although Len himself doesn't like Mary and would probably be much happier if she was gone.
  • Hidden Depths: There are dimensions of Leonard Clements' character that surprise even him. His wife comments that he is 'very unexpected' and she never feels she really knows him... which may be why she married him.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. A maid hears 'a man's sneeze', which sounds much closer to a real silencer, used to cover up the fatal gunshot.
  • Lethal Chef: Griselda can't cook or keep house in general. Their maid, Mary, isn't much better than her.
  • Little Old Lady Investigates: Miss Marple is of course the Trope Codifier.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Anne Protheroe
  • May–December Romance: Leonard and Griselda. He's 20 years older than her, she had many other suitors, and he proposed to her within 24 hours of meeting her despite the fact, as she cheerfully puts it, that "I am everything you disapprove of in a woman."
  • Medication Tampering: Lawrence switches Hawes' medication with a poison, nearly killing him.
  • Nephewism: The Vicar lives with his nephew Dennis, whom he and his wife appear to be raising as their own. His biological parents are not mentioned.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Rev. Clement twice tries to tell Inspector Slack that the clock in his study was deliberately set fifteen minutes ahead. After Slack rudely demands silence, Clement decides not to bother telling him, hoping that Slack will be embarrassed if he finds out later, having spent a fair bit of thought on the timing of the murder based on the clock.
  • Police Are Useless: Inspector Slack is very energetic, but ultimately doesn't do much to solve the crime other than interrogate people. Colonel Melchett contributes more, but it's ultimately Miss Marple that figures the whole thing out.
  • Redemption Earns Life: A rather literal case: Curate Hawes calling the Vicar to confess about his Sticky Fingers ends up saving his life when he's poisoned by the murderer, as the phone call to the Vicar is the only reason he's found in time.
  • Red Herring: The whole business with Miss Cram and the suitcase turns out to be part of a plot to rob Protheroe, not kill him.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Mrs. Protheroe stops to talk to Miss Marple on her way to kill her husband, making sure that Miss Marple will note the timing of her movements and also the fact that she doesn't have a purse with her or any other place she could conceal a gun. It backfires when it occurs to Miss Marple to wonder just why Mrs. Protheroe wouldn't have brought her purse on a shopping trip...
  • Shout-Out: The Vicar and Lawrence briefly refer to the stories of Christie's fellow Detective Club member G. K. Chesterton.
  • Sticky Fingers: In the beginning of the novel, the Vicar briefly mentions an incident about a missing pound note from the church offering, though he thought that someone had just made a mistake over the amount of money they had actually given. Later, it is revealed that Curate Hawes had stolen it, and the reason he called the Vicar was to confess to his stealing habits.
  • Take Our Word for It: At one point, the Vicar, whose sermons are usually "dull and scholarly", is inspired to preach an evangelical call to repentance. He describes it almost entirely through its effect on his audience.
  • Taking the Heat: Both Lawrence Redding and his lover Anne Protheroe confesses to the murder, while insisting the other is innocent. It is then deduced that the two had separately stumbled upon the corpse, wrongly concluded that their loved one had committed the deed and made the confession in order to protect the other. Subverted. The two were actually co-conspirators to the crime, and made the confession to confuse the police.
  • This Is Reality: Invoked by Marple in how she was onto Redding was the culprit.
    Marple: I know that in the book the least likely person is the killer but in reality, that's rarely the case.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Inverted. Miss Marple's plan is spelled out to the audience beforehand, and its success is confirmed in one brief, almost off-hand sentence after the fact.
  • The Vicar: Leonard Clement is often described by his parishioners as being too trusting and "unworldly"... not at all accurately, as it turns out.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: As the Colonel is the most disliked man in the village of St. Mary Mead, most of the villagers have a good reason to see him dead. Even the vicar says that killing him would be a service to the community. On the first page.
  • You Watch Too Much X: Near the beginning, Griselda starts speculating about the mysterious and possibly sinister Mrs Lestrange, and Len tells her she reads too many detective novels.

The BBC film adaptation additionally contains examples of:

  • Driven to Suicide: Anne Protheroe kills herself out of remorse, instead of being tried.

The ITV television adaptation additionally contains examples of:

  • Nosy Neighbor: Miss Marple and her circle of gossipy women gather for what they call "tea and scandal" and as a group peep from behind a window curtain to watch Anne Protheroe when she scurries half-dressed from Lawrence's house.

Alternative Title(s): Murder At The Vicarage