October 2015 Book of the Month - The Murder at the Vicarage

TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom
The Murder at the Vicarage was first published 85 years ago this October, making it the perfect fit for our October Book of the Month. It was the first full length book to feature Miss Marple. In Christie's autobiography, she reflects on the story and states that there were 'far too many characters, and too many sub-plots' and that she was not so pleased with it as she was when she wrote it. 

Do you agree with Christie's own criticisms on The Murder at the Vicarage?

Leave your thoughts and theories about the book below. 


  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I think She is right about the sub-plots and I suppose if there hadn't been one sub-plot there would have been 2 fewer Characters but I like The Book a lot, my only Criticism is perhaps it needn't have been a Miss Marple book perhaps The Vicar could have been the sleuth and Miss Marple introduced in Body In The Library but apart from this very minor point I love the book and it is nearly as good as my 3 favourite Miss Marple Books.
  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    I love this book. I think it was the first Miss Marple's books that I read. And cherish such good memories from this book. I will re-read it!
    I like very much the vicar and his wife. He's funny and understandable. The plot is so good and the Miss Marple is very clever and sharp to solve the murder.
  • I love this book: it is my favourite. It evokes the quiet beauty of country life at that time. The plot is masterly. SPOILER ALERT. The obvious persons to have commited the crime did do it, but covered up with an audacious double bluff. This is so believable. Sociopaths always do exaggerate their own cleverness to themselves. The characters are utterly believable. Here we see the 'types' which are often talked about in relation to Agatha Christie: the sociopath; the 'quaker type' - Anne Protheroe, who is contained on the surface, but has passionate, unstoppable depths beneath. The bully in Colonel Protheroe. Lettice is a good study - true to life, and in a sense her mother's daughter. Gladys Cram gives a welcome fresh perspective on the crime, as she is an outsider, from a slightly different class to the other characters: she talks unsentimentally about what a murderer might and might do. Is there a more humorous detective than Inspector Slack, in any AC novel? Miss Marple is both a part of the story and an interloper on the investigation. More than in The Moving Finger, or The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, she is intrinsically there on the time line. It is all there, and the changing social relationships with servants, and the like. Agatha Christie is hard on herself. There are ot so many sub-plots, and we needed them to throw suspicion away from the murderers. It was a crime at the back of a house whose exits could be viewed by all the neighbours, therefore the writer had to put in lots of alternatives, or else we would have said, well it had to be them.

    Apart from the gratuitious flash backs to a fictious Miss Marple youth, and the horrendous plot change to make two characters know each other before who didn't really, the tv dramatisation was well-cast, and well-acted.

    Is the manor house the one that later Dolly Bantry bought, and then the one the actress acquired in The Mirror Crack'd from side to side?
  • I think it probably is the same house - it is called "the Hall" in Murder in the Vicarage, and Gossington Hall in The Body in the Library. But chances of having two large halls in or near one village are slim. It is probably the same "Old Hall" that is mentioned in one of the later MM short stories - The case of the perfect maid. In that story, the hall has been divided into 4 flats, which are successfully rented out (However, after the story it is doubtful whether the families will want to live in close proximity!); in The Mirror Cracked it is mentioned that after Mrs. Bantry sold the hall, it was divided into 4 flats and rented out separately, but it wasn't a success. So it all fits together.
  • Thanks for this Tali. It is amazing how society changed in the time that AC was writing.
  • edited October 2015

    It is indeed. AC comments on this in the MM books - in Murder in the vicarage, everybody knows everybody, and the one stranger - Mrs. Lestrange - stands out and awakens a lot of curiosity. In The Body in the Library, even the bohemian Basil Blake is connected; Mrs. Bantry says "I knew his mother". However, by "A Murder is announced", A lot of people have moved into Chipping Cleghorn (a place similar to St. Mary Mead) so that the possibility of imposture has to be considered; and by "The Mirror Cracked", not only have several old inhabitants died and newcomers taken their place, but the development (the newly built mass-produced neighbourhood) Is filling up with people nobody knows. 

    Another interesting thing is the change in hired home-help. There is mention of old,efficient maids who really took full responsibility (like faithful Florence mentioned in 4.50 from Paddington), then we meet a series of untrained girls from the orphanage, whom MM trains in housekeeping and who treat her with respect for her superior class, and then go on to better paid jobs. Then we meet the annoying middle-aged Miss Knight, who completely ignores her employer's wishes and dignity, and really tries her patience; and finally Cherry from the development, whose housekeeping is rather sketchy, and who doesn't keep a polite distance, but who treats MM with affection and real respect for her own sake (when MM appreciates the care Cherry takes of her, Cherry responds: "Got to. Good people are scarce"). One of the lovely things about MM is her willingness to adapt to change, especially evident in her happy acceptance of Cherry. 


  • Yes, I think you should write some articles on maids and Christie's books, and how the subtle changes in society are charted. I think that this site could do with some well-researched articles, by a well read scholar such as yourself - with a light touch. And don't forget the parlourmaid Ursula Bourne in The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd - a lady who elects to work as an ordinary servant. Best of all with this novel, AC seems to understand the characters, and to have caught the rhythms of everyday speech perfectly.
  • Thank you! I may do that.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    Does anyone know why this book is dedicated to Rosalind, AC"s daughter?

    About the subplots, if the writer herself tells us that, i just make a note about it somewhere in my head. But I like Griselda's conclusion: the reader needs the aversions.

    Which makes me wonder: did AC allow the reactions of her readers's to her writings, influence her style of writing in any way?
  • Dear Shana, what an interesting hypothesis about my favourite book. I had never considered that, but the style does change over time,and it would be a strange writer who did not wonder what there readers approved of. I wonder if anyone can discern a particular type of change? All I know is that individual friends asked her to write a story a particular way. A Lord or member of royalty suggested the ending to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. A friend wanted a bloody story, so she wrote Hercule Poirot's Christmas, I imagine her as a strong willed person who wrote for herself, but no one is that indifferent to public opinion. Can you see signs that she is writing in particular places or types of,people? What things do you think her readers liked, plot and surprise wise?
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    @Griselda, one thing we know: AC became fed up of Hercule but on popular demand of her readers kept on writing HP-mysteries. but on change of style of writing someone who knows her whole canon can shine some light on. The fan-letters she received also should be taken in account for that analysis, to discern any link to possible style changes. I have read about the request from personal friends also, so that is a fact. 
    Grieslda you say AC wrote for herself. I partly agree on that. Her, accommadating friends, publishers and readers preferences shows she wrote for others to enjoy up to a certain extent. That's talking about her mystery novels. But her work under the Westmacott psuedonym is much more what AC would rather write. I think we have to make that distiction when discussing this matter.
  • Yes, I haven't read the Westmacott novels. I ought to. These, would throw light on her natural style, as would the autobiography. Sometimes, books like The Hollow, and Taken At The Flood seem so much based on characters she has taken an interest in, or so it seems, and sometimes it isn't that easy to tell what those characters would actually be like. It seems she writes to get down her own impressions about human nature. Sometimes it seems that a character has bugged her in real life, and so she writes a novel around them, like Bella in Dumb Witness, or Linnet in Death on the Nile. She is sure that Linnet's attitude contributed to her misfortune. But Murder on the Orient Express, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd seem written to tease and challenge the reader.It isn't just a chronological thing, her change in style.
  • Griselda, the most famous book written about a real chacarter was, of course, "Murder in mesopotamia" where the victim is a thinly-veiled portrait of Katherine Woolley. I won't enlarge on this because we discussed it elsewhere, but there is a nice article about it in the net: 

  • That's interesting, Tail. Was Katherine Woolley somebody she didn't like?
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Agatha Christie met Katherine Wooley on the Archeological Dig where she met Sir Max, I think she was very formidable.
  • Griselda, Katherine Woolley was the wife of the excavation leader at the first dig AC visited (about a year after her divorce). She was a fascinating woman, and AC admired her while being exasperated by her dominating, prima-donna, femme-fatale behavior. The limit was when AC and Max Mallowan (who she met on the dig, the second year she visited) decided to get married, KW first insisted they put off their wedding (they refused) and then that AC would not come with her husband to the dig, and also would not accompany him part of the way (AC did accompany Max as far as Greece, where she fell ill). As a result, Max left the expedition at the end of that season and started a dig of his own, AC accompanying him (and helping with photography), and AC portrayed KW as Louise in Murder in Mesopotamia. AC and Max were a bit concerned that KW would recognize herself in the book and be angry, but either she didn't or she pretended not to - outwardly she loved the book. I think it was originally dedicated to "The Woolleys" and later the dedication was changed to "My Many Archeological Friends in Iraq and Syria." While AC's portrait of KW is probably correct as to character, it does her an injustice because KW was not just a prima-donna femme-fatale, she also contributed considerably to the archeological research. (Most of this information is from the autobiography, Some of it is from the article in the link I gave above).
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Murder At The Vicarage was published before The Thirteen Problems wasn't it so the story did introduce Miss Marple, I love the Audio Cassette with Francis Matthews and Imelda Staunton, by the way Francis Matthews voiced Captatin Scarlet whose face was modelled on Cary Grant.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

    I meant Captain Scarlet, Moderator; this site needs a delete facility.

  • I love this book. The first Christie I ever read. But yes a lot of plot and intrigue. Pure bliss.
  • edited October 2015
    Tommy_A_Jones, I was surprised at your statement that "Murder in the Vicarage" introduced MM as it was published before "The Thirteen Problems", because internal evidence indicates the opposite: In "problems" there is the local clergyman, Dr. Pender, while in "Vicarage", "The Body in the Library" and "Paddington", it is Leonard Clement. Also the doctor in the middle "Problems" stories is Lloyd, while in the last "problems" story and in "vicarage" and "The mirror cracked" it is Haydock. I checked in Wikipedia for both books, and it turns out that most of the stories that later appeared in "Problems" were written and published in magazines before "Vicarage" was published; in the late 20s and in 1930, only the last story in "problems" was published after "Vicarage". However, after the publication of "Vicarage" (and perhaps because of it's popularity) the stories were collected into a book. So that MM was actually introduced to the readers in the story "The Tuesday Night Club".
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    @CassandraMorrison you are right about The Tuesday Club Murders being published earlier than Murder at the Vicarage. A little research reveals the stories were first published between 1927 and 1930 in various fiction magizines in the UK. Only in 1932 this collection was published as a book.

    A lot of early AC work was first published in magazines before coming out as a book, it seems.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I was under the impression that "Problems" was Published between "Vicarage" and "Library", I also think that Dr Pender is an old Friend of Miss Marple's who is now retired that doesn't necessarily suggest Clement isn't the present Vicar at the time of "Problems" Similarly I was under the impression that Dr Lioyd was a old friend who was visiting St Mary Mead which doesn't suggest that Dr Haydock isn't the Doctor at the time of "Problems" If Haydock had been The current Doctor and Clement The Current Vicar they may not have been free to attend The Tuesday Night Club, Clement might have but The Village does seem to me have been a one Doc Village. 
  • Tommy, I agree with you about the internal evidence - it is open to interpretation. But publishing dates are external facts - the separate stories that were collected in "Problems" (after the publication of "Vicarage") were published individually in a magazine before the publication of "Vicarage".
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Oh Thankyou Tali -If I may call you that, Oddly enough I think  I would thunk that should stories were written before Novels as a way of an Author testing the water, sorry ,y writing has gone italic I pressed something by mistake and can't put it back.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    So, a new month has started and we have the anouncement for a new book of the month. And what about this book of the month? Will an administrator "wrap it up" in some kind of way, all the points made, conclusions etc?? Goes for every title that made it as "book of the month".
  • Exactly, Shana. What about some interesting stats and facts researched by an administrator, eg, which real life vicar was Leonard based upon; a funny and interesting quote from a tv actor who starred in an adaptation; a memoir from a family member of AC relating to this novel. Can't there be an administrator paid to stimulate discussion and respond to posts, tying up points and developing discussion. Food for though. Are the spam posts still appearing, I ask myself also.
  • luismkluismk Bariloche,Rio Negro, Argentina
    Murder at the Vicarage fue una de las primeras novelas de Agatha Christie que leí, hace 40 años, me encantó entonces, y me sigue gustando. Muy buena la anmbientacióbn en Saint Mary Mead y la descripción de los personajes. El vicario y su esposa son personajes queribles, y me hubiera gustado verlos protagonizar otros relatos. ( solo son mencionados tangencialmente en algunas otras novelas) Cuando tengo que recomendar alguna lectura de Christie, sempre pienso en Murder at the Vicarage como una de ellas...
  • edited October 2016
    In The Murder At The Vicarage, I know that Colonel Protheroe is a magistrate but in my research of a magistrate and what a magistrate does, I've read that in most cases there are usually a bench of 3 magistrates and all of them confer with one another what the verdict/punishment will be for the criminal. And out of the three there is one who is like a representative, a chairman, a mouthpiece who announces the given verdict. Now in Vicarage, I don't remember reading of two other people who served along the bench with Protheroe. So he must have been the District Judge of the Magistrate Court. I've read that a District Judge sits alone, decides the outcome and passes a sentence without reference to another party. It appears as if Colonel Protheroe was the one who solely made the final decision in his position who didn't conferred with anyone.

    What does anyone think about this? 
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    I don't know for sure, but in another fiction book, P.G. Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters, the local magistrate of a country seat is just one guy who handles cases by himself.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Could it be that as with Christie and Wodehouse when there is Magistrate scenes only 1 of them is an Actual important Character so only they are mentioned, although the other 2 may be there but there is no need to mention them so they aren't. or it could be Licence on the part of Christie and Wodehouse.
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