Friday, March 17, 2023

A Murder Is Announced

 A Murder Is Announced
(1950) by Agatha Christie

A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.

It isn't often that a murderer announces their intentions--especially not so publicly as in the personals column of the local newspaper. Unless, of course, the announcement refers to one of those country house "Murder Game" parties. And that's what the village of Chipping Cleghorn thinks is going to happen at Miss Letitia Blacklock's house that evening...even if an ad in the personal column is an odd way to send your invitation. Everyone expects something fun and interesting to happen...even Miss Blacklock who is just as surprised as her neighbors when the advertisement is brought to her attention.

"I know one thing that will happen at 6:30," she said dryly. "We'll have half the village up here, agog with curiosity. I'd better make sure we've got some sherry in the house."

And, of course, she's right. The neighbors come along, all innocence, with stories about how they just thought they'd drop by for one reason or another. All but Diana "Bunch" Harmon, the vicar's wife, who exclaims as she enters the drawing room, "I'm not too late, am I? When does the murder begin?" 

When the lights suddenly go out, it looks like the murder game is about to begin. A man bursts through the door, tells them all to "Stick 'em up" and then there are three shots. As the lights come back on, Letitia is found with her ear bleeding--apparently grazed by one of the bullets--and the masked gunman is lying dead just outside the drawing room door. Is this just a murder game or practical joke gone wrong? Or was the gunman...or someone else...really trying to kill Letitia Blacklock. There is a large inheritance that will go to a mysterious pair of twins known only as Pip and Emma--if Miss Blacklock dies soon. Could one of the inmates of Little Paddocks (Patrick and Julia Simmons--distant relations that Miss Blacklock has never seen--or Phillipa Haymes, a boarder) be one or both of the twins? And could they have organized the attempted murder? Or are there other reasons for murder at Little Paddocks? Inspector Dermot Craddock is on the case and will receive help from Miss Marple (who just happens to be Bunch Harmon's aunt).

**********possible spoilers ahead!***********

Murderous fun and games in Chipping Cleghorn. This is one of my favorite Miss Marple stories--and one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels overall. I love how many people in this story are impersonating other people...or are just misrepresenting who they are. Are there a few improbable coincidences? Sure, but Christie writes such good plots that I really don't mind. The theme that you can't always trust what people tell you about themselves is really good, especially when you contrast it to how well-known everyone in a village would have been not too long before this story was written. As Miss Marple explains to Inspector Craddock

...nobody knows anymore who anyone is. You can have Benares brassware in your house and talk about tiffin and chota Hazi--and you can have pictures of Taormina and talk about the English church and the library--like Miss Hinchliff and Miss Murgatroyd. You can come from the South of France, or have spent your life in the East. People take you at your own valuation. They don't wait to call until they've had a letter from a friend saying that the So-andSo's are delightful people and she's known them all their lives.

It's a nice commentary on the way British village life had changed after the war. I also like so many of the characters from Bunch Harmon to fluffy, muddle-headed Dora Bunner to the Misses Hinchcliff and Murgatroyd. The character sketches in this novel seem particularly well done. I read this once long ago (about 40 years ago, in fact) and I remember being thoroughly stumped about the solution. If I hadn't seen the video versions (both with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple and that with Geraldine McEwan), Christie might have stumped me again. But it doesn't bother me when I remember the solutions to Christie mysteries, I just enjoy the world she presents and following along with Miss Marple (or Poirot or Tommy & Tuppence) to the finish. ★★★★

First line: Between 7:30 and 8:30 every morning except Sundays, Johnnie Butt made the round of the village of Chipping Cleghorn on his bicycle, whistling vociferously through his teeth and alighting at each house or cottage to shove through the lette box such morning papers as had been ordered by the occupants of the the house in question from Mr. Totman, stationer, of the High Street.

Last line: "How else would they know what's going on around here?"


Deaths = 9 (one shot; one poisoned; five natural; one hit by car; one strangled)

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