A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Genre: Mystery, Murder Mystery, Fiction
Published: June 1950 by Collins Crime Club
All hail the queen of murder mystery, Agatha Christie!
I recently finished The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, my first ever Agatha Christie read and a masterful display of writing. As that book is now among my favourites, I was quite eager to sample more of the author’s works and decided on a book in her Miss Marple series. It was not a completely random choice, rather the blurb was extraordinarily compelling and promised a very intriguing plot.
Every Friday the local gazette is delivered to all the residents of Chipping Cleghorn. Reading the gazette is a bit of a highlight, as this is a small village and its inhabitants are unsurprisingly, very interested in every bit of local news. This Friday, an advertisement placed in ‘the Gazette’s’ pages cause quite the stir…
‘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.’
Such an invitation is hard to resist and so a bit of a crowd arrives at Little Paddocks to see what all the fuss is about, and indeed, murder happens, with none the wiser as to the perpetrator. The local police start investigating, but mysteries, layered in enigmas and wrapped in riddles abound. The whole village is rife with gossip on the matter and everyone has an opinion, making the task of finding the murderer even more challenging for the detective in charge. Luckily, this is a Miss Marple novel and the eponymous character indeed makes her appearance and unofficially teams up with the police to try and make heads or tails of a very perplexing crime.
“People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they? ‘
The characters are as expected phenomenal, just as with the previous Christie book I read. Every character is extremely distinctive, their backgrounds differ vastly, their personalities are vivid and very … genuine. The people are human beings just like you and me, with faults aplenty, but much good in them too, and Christie has it all on display here, her knowledge of the human psyche evident. It immersed me in the setting, and I felt like a resident of this authentic English village, as baffled by the turn of events as the inhabitants. As for Miss Marple, she wasn’t what I expected and only turned up about a third into the story, but she was everything I hoped for and more by the end. Another well-realized and compelling protagonist she has a marvellous feel for people and is brilliant at extracting information unobtrusively, and all in the guise of a sweet old lady. And although I say guise, it’s not really, she is a lovely old lady. (I confess, though, I slightly prefer Poirot with his unusual personality at this point, but I’m very eager to read much more about them and can see both being favourites of mine.)
The settings of both Christie novels I have read have also played their respective parts in my enjoyment of these whodunnits. A small village is such a captivating setting for a murder. The inhabitants usually think they know everything about one another and are always quick in inserting themselves in each other’s business, freely doling out advice, opinion, and gossip. And the relaxedness of this country life does indeed lend itself to such openness with people moving to and fro between each other’s residences with nary an appointment made and the need for locked doors all but non-existent. And although most of these villages aren’t too far from the next small village or even larger town, the feeling you get from such a close-knitted community in such a small place is one of isolation. It causes this idyllic English countryside setting to come to life with tension when punctuated with such a violent crime.
“Really, I have no gifts—no gifts at all—except perhaps a certain knowledge of human nature. People, I find, are apt to be far too trustful. I’m afraid that I have a tendency always to believe the worst. Not a nice trait. But so often justified by subsequent events.”
Speaking of tension, the writing in A Murder is Announced is terrific. Christie’s prose is exceedingly easy to read and enjoy, cleverly paced and provides heaps of witty dialogue and that delightfully dry British tone which I’m partial to. This is a murder mystery, of course, so the tension is always lurking. The suspense gradually builds and is maintained throughout, with twists and turns of the narrative deftly plotted. Christie had me guessing until the very end, at which point she politely “winked” at me then gave me a very decisive “NOPE”. The climax is superb, and even more so once you start realizing that all the clues were right there in front of you, making it entirely possible to solve this case before the great reveal! The only issue I did have with the book was coincidentally about the writing, with some weird old uses of English words coming into play which made for awkward reading in more modern times.
Two novels from two series of this author that I have now read, and two thoroughly enjoyed reads. A Murder is Announced may have hooked me with that very intriguing blurb, but it kept me entranced with the mystery, twists and turns, all wrapped up in a quick, fun read. I doubt I need to convince anyone though to give this a try as the author and her books are legendary and have collectively sold an astonishing number of more than 4 billion copies. Yes, you read that right. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. FOUR. BILLION. I could say I guess that her stories have stood the test of time, but I don’t need to guess. I know.