The Murder at the Vicarage is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in October 1930 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
It is the first novel to feature the character of Miss Marple although the character had previously appeared in short stories published in The Royal Magazine and The Story-Teller Magazine starting in December 1927. These earlier stories would later appear in book form in The Thirteen Problems in 1932.
In St. Mary Mead, no one is more despised than Colonel Protheroe. Even the local vicar has said that killing him would be doing a service to the townsfolk. So when Protheroe is found murdered in the same vicar's study, and two different people confess to the crime, it is time for the elderly spinster Jane Marple to exercise her detective abilities.
The vicar and his wife, Leonard and Griselda Clement respectively, who made their first appearance in this novel, continue to show up in Miss Marple stories: notably, in The Body in the Library (1942) and 4.50 from Paddington (1957)
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Colonel Lucius Protheroe is wealthy, active in the church and a magistrate. Yet almost no one in his village, St Mary Mead, likes him; Vicar Leonard Clement endures his public insults while setting up an evening meeting to discuss irregularities in the accounts, and Protheroe's 16 year old daughter Lettice cannot bear him. Both express a wish for him to die, out of frustration with him. Clement sees Mrs Anne Protheroe in tight embrace with Lawrence Redding, clearly tired of her husband. That evening, the Colonel is found murdered in the Vicar's study.
Vicar Clement is called away to a home two miles distant. He walks there and back, learning that they had not called him. He is late for the meeting with Protheroe, set for 6:15 pm. He meets Redding, who is leaving the vicarage. Upon entering the study, he finds Protheroe bent over at the desk, shot in the head, dead. He calls Dr Haydock, who arrives at 6:55 and estimates time of death as 30 minutes earlier. Dr Haydock calls the police. A note is found beneath the corpse, along with the Vicar's clock. The note is marked with a time of 6:20 pm and the clock is set to 6:22. The note is odd, saying I can no longer wait for you, though it was made clear to Protheroe upon his arrival that the vicar would not arrive before 6:30 and Protheroe seemed perfectly willing to wait at the time.
News spreads quickly in St Mary Mead. No one, including Miss Jane Marple outdoors in her garden, hears a shot from the study. Several in the village did hear an odd sort of shot from the woods, but later than 6:25. Inspector Slack and Chief Constable Melchett arrive to inspect the scene and search for clues. The inspector is thorough, but not quite as thorough as Miss Marple in gathering information and making sense of it. The Inspector scorns the older women in the village, single or widowed, despite their observant ways. Rather soon, two people confess to the murder. Lawrence Redding, the artist who uses a building on the vicarage property as his studio, confesses to the crime. The police do not believe him. Next, Mrs Anne Protheroe confesses to committing the murder. Nor is she believed, because others saw her outdoors. Other possible suspects include Archer, a man treated harshly by Protheroe for poaching; Mrs Lestrange, who appeared recently in the village and sees only Dr Haydock. The other outsider is Dr Stone, an archaeologist and his assistant, Gladys Cram, who are working at a site on the Protheroe estate. Miss Marple has a list of seven in her mind.
Miss Marple sees Miss Cram carrying a suitcase into the woods at midnight, and Clement later finds the suitcase. Miss Marple's nephew Raymond West has met Stone and does not recognize the man claiming to be him. In the suitcase is valuable silver belonging to the Protheroes. Slack learns that Stone is not an archeologist but a thief with a long record.
Miss Marple compares people in new situations with people she has observed in village life, and then thinks out what is really happening, never relying of what people say, but on what she can verify. The Vicar respects her intelligence. Clement is interested to find the murderer, as is Miss Marple, as are the police. The police send the note to a specialist, who says that it was not written by Protheroe.
Melchett shares this news with Clement. Clement and Melchett proceed to Curate Hawes' rooms because of a phone call of confession. Hawes is barely alive, and has received the actual note written by Protheroe from Redding on the previous evening, which accuses Hawes of stealing funds from the church. Dr Haydock saves Hawes' life; Redding had substituted a dangerous drug in place of the usual medication, hoping Hawes, dead, would appear as the murderer, and that is what Melchett and Clement believe. Miss Marple arrives at Hawes' rooms, because the local phone operator first mistakenly connects Melchett's call to Haydock to her phone before making the connection correctly. She is glad that Hawes will survive and then explains who the murderer is. Melchett is unwilling to believe her; at the end, he knows she is right. No one heard a shot because a silencer was used on the pistol owned by Redding. Redding places the pistol with silencer in a potted plant when he visits Clement earlier in the afternoon. Anne Protheroe then shoots her husband at 6:25 after walking past Miss Marple and showing how she carried no purse, no gun. Then Anne meets up with Redding, and both are seen in public by 6:30 pm. Redding returns to the vicarage just before Clement returns, removing the pistol and actual note, and placing the misleading note. Miss Marple sees Redding as a handsome man with many talents, and ruthless, wanting marriage only with a wife who brought wealth. A hint is dropped that someone saw Redding switch the medication for poor Hawes. Redding met with Anne at night outside her home, where the police overheard their conversation and used the facts to bring the pair to trial.
Lettice explains that Mrs Lestrange is her mother, the first wife of Protheroe, who deserted him. She is mortally ill and wants to be near her daughter.
At the Vicarage
- Leonard Clement — the Vicar
- Griselda Clement — the Vicar's wife
- Dennis Clement — the Vicar's teenage nephew
- Mary Hill - the maid
- Lawrence Redding — a painter
At Old Hall
- Colonel Lucius Protheroe — the churchwarden and the local magistrate
- Anne Protheroe — Colonel Protheroe's second wife
- Lettice Protheroe — Colonel Protheroe's teenage daughter from his first marriage
- Rose — a parlour maid
- Mrs Simmons - housekeeper
- Gladys - kitchen maid
- Reeves - butler
- Mrs Pratt - cook
- Dr Stone — an archaeologist who digs at Colonel Protheroe's land
- Gladys Cram — the secretary to Dr. Stone, an archaeologist
- Manning - chauffeur
Neighbours of the vicarage
- Jane Marple
- Raymond West — Miss Marple's nephew, a writer
- Emily (The Murder at the Vicarage) - Miss Marple's maid
- Mrs. Price-Ridley — lives next to the Vicarage
- Clara - Mrs Price-Ridley's maid
- Miss Hartnell
- Miss Wetherby — lives next to Miss Hartnell
- Mrs Lestrange — the mysterious woman who rents a house at the back of the Vicarage
- Hilda - Mrs Lestrange's maid
- Dr Haydock — the village's doctor
- Mary Adams
- Mrs Archer
- Mr Hawes — the curate
- Mrs Sadler
- Dr Quinton
- Fred Jackson
- Henry Abbott
- Mrs Abbott
- Mr Cherubim - chemist
Police and officials
- Inspector Slack — the investigating detective
- Colonel Melchett — the Chief Constable
- Constable Hurst
- Dr Roberts
- Henry Clithering
- Susan Hartley Napier - Lettice's friend
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of November 6, 1930 posed the various questions as to who could have killed Protheroe and why and concluded, "As a detective story, the only fault of this one is that it is hard to believe the culprit could kill Prothero [sic] so quickly and quietly. The three plans of the room, garden, and village show that almost within sight and hearing was Miss Marple, who 'always knew every single thing that happened and drew the worst inferences.' And three other 'Parish cats' (admirably portrayed) were in the next three houses. It is Miss Marple who does detect the murderer in the end, but one suspects she would have done it sooner in reality".
The review of the novel in The New York Times Book Review of November 30, 1930 began, "The talented Miss Christie is far from being at her best in her latest mystery story. It will add little to her eminence in the field of detective fiction." The review went on to say that, "the local sisterhood of spinsters is introduced with much gossip and click-clack. A bit of this goes a long way and the average reader is apt to grow weary of it all, particularly of the amiable Miss Marple, who is sleuth-in-chief of the affair." The reviewer summarised the set-up of the plot and concluded, "The solution is a distinct anti-climax."
H.C. O'Neill in The Observer of December 12, 1930 said that, "here is a straightforward story which very pleasantly draws a number of red herrings across the docile reader's path. There is a distinct originality in her new expedient for keeping the secret. She discloses it at the outset, turns it inside out, apparently proves that the solution cannot be true, and so produces an atmosphere of bewilderment."
In the Daily Express of October 16, 1930 Harold Nicolson said, "I have read better works by Agatha Christie, but that does not mean that this last book is not more cheerful, more amusing, and more seductive than the generality of detective novels."
In a short review of October 15, 1930, the Daily Mirror said that, "Bafflement is well sustained."
Robert Barnard: "Our first glimpse of St Mary Mead, a hotbed of burglary, impersonation, adultery and ultimately murder. What is it precisely that people find so cosy about such stories? The solution boggles the mind somewhat, but there are too many incidental pleasures to complain, and the strong dose of vinegar in this first sketch of Miss Marple is more to modern taste than the touch of syrup in later presentations."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The Murder at the Vicarage (1949 play)
- Main article: Murder at the Vicarage (play)
The story was adapted into a play by Moie Charles and Barbara Toy in 1949 and opened at the Playhouse Theatre on December 16. Miss Marple was played by Barbara Mullen.
Mord im Pfarrhaus
- Main article: Mord im Pfarrhaus (1970 TV play)
In 1970, a West German public broadcasting network, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), produced a TV adaptation with the title "Mord im Pfaffhaus" starring Inge Langen as a relatively young Miss Marple.
Miss Marple (BBC TV Series)
- Main article: The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple episode)
A TV film adaptation was aired on 25 December 1986 as episode 4 of the BBC series Miss Marple starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, Paul Eddington as the vicar, and Polly Adams as Anne Protheroe. The adaptation was generally very close to the original novel with two major exceptions: the characters of Dr. Stone and Gladys Cram were deleted, and Bill Archer is present in the kitchen of the Vicarage while the murder takes place.
Agatha Christie's Marple (ITV series)
Another film adaptation was made in 2004 as episode 2 of season 1 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple. This featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, Tim McInnerny as the vicar, Derek Jacobi as Colonel Protheroe and Janet McTeer as his wife. The manner of the murder is the same but there were changes in various characters.
In both versions the Vicar has a somewhat reduced role and does not participate in the investigation in a significant degree since his presence as narrator was unnecessary in a filmed version.
Les Petits Meurtes d'Agatha
An French adaptation L'affaire Protheroe was made as episode 14 of season 2 of the series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, first broadcast on France 2 on 9 Sep 2016. There is no vicarage and the setting is changed to an advertising agency in Lille. The investigators are the French policeman commissaire Laurence, his secretary Marlene, and reporter Alice Avril. Otherwise, the adaptation manages to remain faithful to the main premise of the original.
Graphic novel adaptation
- Main article: The Murder at the Vicarage (graphic novel)
The Murder at the Vicarage was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on May 20, 2008, adapted and illustrated by "Norma" (Norbert Morandière) (ISBN 0-00-727460-2). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of L'Affaire Protheroe.
- 1930, Collins Crime Club (London), October 1930, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1930, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1930, Hardcover, 319 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 686), 255 pp
- 1948, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, 223 pp
- 1961, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1976, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 251 pp, ISBN 0-00-231543-2
- 1978, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead and Company), Hardcover, 251 pp
- 1980, Ulverscroft Large Print Edition, Hardcover, 391 pp, ISBN 0-7089-0476-9
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1930 UK first edition), September 12, 2005, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720842-1
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in fifty-five instalments from Monday, August 18 to Monday, October 20, 1930.
The dedication of the book reads:
The subject of this dedication is Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks (1919–2004) who was the daughter of her first marriage to Archibald Christie (1890–1962) and Agatha Christie's only child. Rosalind was eleven years of age at the time of the publication of this book.
The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads:
"In the peaceful village of St. Mary Mead nothing ever happens. So it seems almost incredible when Colonel Protheroe, the churchwarden, is discovered, shot through the head, in the Vicarage study. Everybody thinks they know who has done it – including Miss Marple, the real old maid of the village who knows everything and sees everything and hears everything! She declares that at least seven people have reasons for wishing Colonel Protheroe out of the way! Excitement dies down when somebody confesses to having committed the crime. But that is not the end, for almost immediately somebody quite different also confesses! And there is a third confession through the telephone! But who really killed Colonel Protheroe?”
- Czech: Vražda na faře (Murder at the Vicarage)
- French: L'affaire Prothéroe (Protheroe's case)
- German: Mord im Pfarrhaus (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Hungarian: Gyilkosság a paplakban (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Lithuanian: Žmogžudystė klebonijoje (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Polish: Morderstwo na plebanii (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Romanian: Crimă la Vicariat (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Russian: Убийство в доме викария (Murder at the Vicar's House)
- Swedish: Mordet i Prästgården (The Murder at the Vicarage)
- Turkish: Ölüm Çığlığı (The death scream)
- Serbian: Ubistvo u parohijskom domu (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Italian: La morte nel villaggio (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Spanish: Muerte en la vicaría (Murder at the Vicarage)
- Arabic: جريمة في القرية (Murder at the Village)