The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of the Miss Marple books, a series featuring one of author Agatha Christie’s “detectives.” However, in this novel most of the actual investigative work is not done by the detective in question. The case involves a murder that takes place at a Vicarage in the small English town of St. Mary Mead, but most of the actual legwork is done by the Vicar himself, Leonard Clement, with assistance of the local doctor, and only marginally the local constable and his superiors.
The “detective,” Miss Marple, is only mentioned briefly here and there, and appears in the book at only a few points to point out theories and possible suspects until half-way through the story, and then only takes a more prominent role in the final chapters.
While she takes the role of “armchair detective” to a whole new level, Miss Marple does have some amazing insights gathered from her “hobby” of observing people. She presents her views in a way that is far less invasive or potentially offensive than some of her fictional male counterparts; she actually keeps up the appearance of a demur, gentle, polite elderly lady while she is lecturing the police on their assumptions and mistakes.
I have long been a fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and have read a number of her stories without a “detective” central character, so this book was quite a surprise for me. Having read a number of Christie’s works featuring Hercule Poirot and The Beresfords, I was at first dismayed to realize how little the series heroine was featured in this story.
I am uncertain about how much I like this particular detective. Since this was the first book I have read of the Miss Marple series, I don’t know what to expect from further stories. I decided to just enjoy the story, which has the usual plethora of twists and turns, false blinds and potential murderers; even if the foot work is done mostly by a bored Vicar who is actually an engaging character in his own right.
However, the more I think about it perhaps that was the author’s plan all along? Christie certainly does not present Miss Marple in the same manner she does her other protagonists, but perhaps that is by design? She does appear to be setting Marple up for a more prominent role that is not apparent here but may be built upon later. I’m sure that I will give in to curiosity and check out another story in the collection at some point.
Meanwhile, this book is an engaging mystery, with plenty of action to charm the fans of English mystery stories, and even a strong, independent female detective in the background to appeal to readers. I give this book four stars.