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The Murder at the Vicarage
The Murder at the Vicarage is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in October 1930 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
It is the first novel to feature the character of Miss Marple, although the character had previously appeared in short stories published in The Royal Magazine and The Story-Teller Magazine, starting in December 1927. These earlier stories would later appear in book form in The Thirteen Problems in 1932.
In St. Mary Mead, no one is more despised than Colonel Lucius Protheroe. Even the local vicar has said that killing him would be doing a service to the townsfolk. So when Protheroe is found murdered in the same vicar's study, and two different people confess to the crime, it is time for the elderly spinster Jane Marple to exercise her detecting abilities. According to Miss Marple, there are seven suspects, including the Vicar himself. After some juggling of clues and events, Miss Marple, using her excellent deductive skills, determines the facts of the crime.
At the end, she finds that the two people who confessed were, indeed, the real murderers and simply wanted to evade suspicion. Mrs Anne Protheroe, wife of the deceased, and Lawrence Redding, her lover, committed the crime. The vicar and his wife, Leonard and Griselda Clement, who made their first appearance in this novel, continue to show up in Miss Marple stories: notably, in The Body in the Library (1942) and 4.50 from Paddington (1957).
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of 6 November 1930 posed the various questions as to who could have killed Protheroe and why, and concluded, "As a detective story, the only fault of this one is that it is hard to believe the culprit could kill Prothero [sic] so quickly and quietly. The three plans of the room, garden, and village show that almost within sight and hearing was Miss Marple, who 'always knew every single thing that happened and drew the worst inferences.' And three other 'Parish cats' (admirably portrayed) were in the next three houses. It is Miss Marple who does detect the murderer in the end, but one suspects she would have done it sooner in reality".
The review of the novel in The New York Times Book Review of 30 November 1930 begins, "The talented Miss Christie is far from being at her best in her latest mystery story. It will add little to her eminence in the field of detective fiction." The review went on to say that, "the local sisterhood of spinsters is introduced with much gossip and click-clack. A bit of this goes a long way and the average reader is apt to grow weary of it all, particularly of the amiable Miss Marple, who is sleuth-in-chief of the affair." The reviewer summarised the set-up of the plot and concluded, "The solution is a distinct anti-climax."
H.C. O'Neill in The Observer of 12 December 1930 said that, "here is a straightforward story which very pleasantly draws a number of red herrings across the docile reader's path. There is a distinct originality in her new expedient for keeping the secret. She discloses it at the outset, turns it inside out, apparently proves that the solution cannot be true, and so produces an atmosphere of bewilderment."
In the Daily Express of 16 October 1930 Harold Nicolson said, "I have read better works by Agatha Christie, but that does not mean that this last book is not more cheerful, more amusing, and more seductive than the generality of detective novels." In a short review dated 15 October 1930, the Daily Mirror review declared, "Bafflement is well sustained."
Robert Barnard: "Our first glimpse of St Mary Mead, a hotbed of burglary, impersonation, adultery and ultimately murder. What is it precisely that people find so cosy about such stories? The solution boggles the mind somewhat, but there are too many incidental pleasures to complain, and the strong dose of vinegar in this first sketch of Miss Marple is more to modern taste than the touch of syrup in later presentations."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The Murder at the Vicarage (1949 play)
The story was adapted into a play by Moie Charles and Barbara Toy in 1949 and opened at the Playhouse Theatre on 16 December 1949. Miss Marple was played by Barbara Mullen.
The BBC adapted the book into a film on 25 December 1986, with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, Paul Eddington as the vicar, and Polly Adams as Anne Protheroe. The adaptation was generally very close to the original novel with four major exceptions: the trap which exposes the killer is changed to involve another murder attempt, the characters of Dennis, Dr. Stone, and Gladys Cram were deleted, Bill Archer is present in the kitchen while the murder takes place and Anne commits suicide out of remorse instead of being tried.
It was presented again on the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple by Granada Television in 2004 with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, Tim McInnerny as the vicar, Derek Jacobi as Colonel Protheroe, and Janet McTeer as Anne. This version eliminates the characters of Dr. Stone and Gladys Cram, replacing them with the elderly French Professor Dufosse and his granddaughter Hélène.
Other changes include the elimination of Miss Weatherby, the changing of Mrs. Price-Ridley's first name from "Martha" to "Marjorie", the renaming of Bill Archer to Frank Tarrent and the addition of a plotline in which the Colonel stole 10,000 francs from the French Resistance, which led to the death of an agent.
Two major departures from the book are the portrayal of Miss Marple as Anne's close friend and the addition of a series of flashbacks to December 1915, where a younger Miss Marple was engaged in a forbidden love affair with a married soldier.
In both versions, the vicar's role is reduced and he does not participate in the investigation since his presence as the narrator was unnecessary in a filmed version.
Graphic novel adaptation
The Murder at the Vicarage was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 20 May 2008, adapted and illustrated by "Norma" (Norbert Morandière) (ISBN 0-00-727460-2). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of L'Affaire Protheroe.
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in fifty-five instalments from Monday, 18 August to Monday, 20 October 1930.
The dedication of the book reads:
The subject of this dedication is Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks (1919–2004) who was the daughter of her first marriage to Archibald Christie (1890–1962) and Agatha Christie's only child. Rosalind was eleven years of age at the time of the publication of this book.