Crime Fiction Alphabet: C is for Christie

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.

It was clear from the start that Colonel Protheroe would be the victim. He was self-important, he was intolerant, and he had no time for tact or diplomacy.

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 … ?

16 responses

  1. I love Agatha Christie – I love them if they are predictable, or if they are more ingenious, I love them if I have read them before and can still remember the murderer – I just love the world of Agatha Christie. Her novels are my curl up when I’m feeling sorry for myself books. You’ve made me want to read some soon.

    • I can still happily read Agatha Christie’s books when I know all of the details, to admire how well they work. Which id luck, because it means I can have a lovely time reading John Curran’s books drawn from Agatha Christies notebooks without worrying about spoilers. Have you read either of them?

  2. I saw the recent TV version of this one, and it sounds like there were considerable changes to the plot. I’ve gotten interested in reading the Miss Marple stories again. I had no idea this was the first.

    • I didn’t see the adaptation of this one, because I love Joan Hickson too much and I’d rather watch those older versions when they get repeated. But I looked at a cast list when I couldn’t remember a name, and there did seem to be a lot of changes.

  3. I do like good old Miss Marple, life seems so interesting for her. It’s a while since I have read a Marple, so may have to raid the bookshelves. I heartily recommend 450 from Paddington when you get there.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the other novels.

    • I love the 4.50 From Paddington (and not just because it’s the station at the other end of the line from my railway station.) I can remember pretty much everything, but I’m still looking forward to my reread.

  4. I enjoy Christie but am not a slavish admirer by any means and I often find that the Marple books stick less easily in the mind that the Poirot stories in term of plot at least.

    • I tend to think the thirties were her best period, and not many of the later books were as strong. I remember more of Poirot, but that may be the David Suchet effect and the fact that it is a long time since i last read or watched Miss Marple,

      • I think, like you, that in terms of plotting, the 1930s were clearly her greatest decade – some of her later books offer more in terms of characterisation I suspect. You may be right about the impact of the TV adaptations although the recent Poirot and Marple films have been pretty woeful in my opinion. Still, I do look forward to seeing if Suchet really does manage to film them all and hope that CURTAIN will brank back Japp, Hastings and maybe even Miss Lemon for a final hurrah – that would be really nice!

    • Me too – my mother pointed me towards Agatha Christie when i moved from the junior shelves to the adult library. The cover is the first edition, but my copy is a facsimilie edition.

  5. I love Agatha Christie but have only read a few of the Miss Marple books as I tend to prefer Poirot. Reading all twelve in order sounds like an interesting idea!

    • I think because Poirot is a professional he works better in different settings. I like the more domestic Miss Marples but I’m less sure about a few of the others. Time will tell!

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