For a long time now I watched the band of readers who have been reading their way through all of Agatha Christie’s works in order. I’ve thought about joining them, but I knew that I couldn’t do it. I’m much to easily distracted, and I’d feel the call of a book out of order as soon as I signed up.
But a little while ago my fiance picked up an account of the life of Miss Jane Marple in a book sale. And I realised that it was a long time since I had reacquainted myself with any of her cases, and that reading twelve novels in order might be interesting. And there’s nothing to say I can’t take a little detour into any of Agatha Christie’s other books along the way.
Miss Marple’s crime solving career began with The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930.
He was found, shot in the head at the vicar’s writing desk.
There were many suspects.
The most obvious were an unhappy wife, an aggrieved daughter, an entangled artist.
And there was a mysterious newcomer, an unsettled curate, an eccentric archaeologist.
Even the vicar had expressed the view that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service.
The types were familiar, but the characters were nicely drawn.
And it was the same with the mystery. There are familiar elements: a clock, apparently knocked over and confirming the time of death; an unfinished letter, that may or may not have been tampered with; confessions that cannot possibly be true. – but they are used well, throwing many questions into the air and creating a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.
Inspector Slack was confounded, but the lady who lived next door to the vicarage understood human nature, she watched, she listened, and she worked everything out. She was, of course, Miss Jane Marple.
An older, more gossipy, less charming Miss Marple than would appear in later novels and adaptations. And she remained on the fringes of the story: an interested neighbour who was not yet the person to be turned to when there was a mystery to be solved, the person whose name police would recognise.
For much of the book that worked well. The vicar told the story, he and his family were charming, and his view was clear and unjudgemental.
But later on, when everything had been thrown up into the air, I missed the guidance of a detective or a more engaged protagonist.
This isn’t Agatha Christie’s finest mystery. There’s nothing wrong with the logic, but a few elements were predictable, and there isn’t the ingenuity that makes many of her mysteries really sing.
But it is a solid mystery, built on traditional lines. A nice period piece, a solid human story, and a very readable book.
There are some lovely touches too. Echoes of Poirot’s first mystery in the plotting. Echoes of Roger Ackroyd in the narration. I wonder if that was deliberate.
I found much to enjoy, much to ponder, and now I’m looking forward to Miss Marple’s next case.
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
“Each week, beginning Monday 21 May 2012, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”
So next week, Dis for … ?