Spoiler Warning – The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) by Agatha Christie

No, Christmas isn’t for another two months, but it’s been a tough year and so here’s a gift to get you through the darkening days (yes, thank-you, the Southern Hemisphere…): Brad and Moira discussing The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) by Agatha Christie. And I’m there, too, of course. You can’t win ’em all.

Having previously discussed Christie’s debut The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), we’ve jumped forward a decade to her “other” sleuth Jane Marple and the shooting of Colonel Protheroe in the vicar’s study. As the title of this series suggest, there are full spoilers thrown about with very casual abandon, so venture forth only if you’re willing to be told things that you a) already know or b) do not wish to be a surprise when you do eventually read this. No more angry emails, please.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Prior to this recording, as mentioned within, our good friend Kate at CrossExaminingCrime looked at TMatV in the light of W.H. Auden’s essay ‘The Guilty Vicarage’ (1948) in a similar spoiler-heavy manner, and you can find her excellent thoughts here.

Where next? You decide! Here’s the poll; vote for the book you’d like us to discuss in our third Spoiler Warning Agatha Christie series discussion in January next year, and the results will be revealed in about a month or so.

Thanks, of course, to Brad and Moira for their time, and to you for listening. Hope you’re keeping safe, and see you for more podcast in two weeks when we’ll be Trusting in GAD again…

59 thoughts on “Spoiler Warning – The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) by Agatha Christie

  1. Pingback: A HUNDRES YEARS OF CHRISTIE: Entr’acte at the Vicarage | ahsweetmysteryblog

  2. Regarding the otherworldliness of clergy or not and Father Brown v Leonard Clement in particular, I think the key difference is Roman Catholicism v Church of England and the role of confession in the former and not the latter. Father Brown hears on a regular basis the sins of his flock but Leonard, generally does not – he only sees people as they wish to be seen.

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      • I think that’s dead right to spot the difference between the Anglican clergy and the RC clergy. The priest in Pale Horse is with it, whereas Rev. Dane is very other worldly. And Poirot is a catholic of course! Perhaps the difference is that AC was friends, in the Detection Club, with Ronnie Knox, who was one of the cleverest men of his time. Nice bloke, too

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    • I think we can assume that Murder at the Vicarage spoilers are fair game, but I’d suggest flagging any spoilers for other beforehand — just because we know what happens in an earlier book, doesn’t mean everyone does.

      Thanks for checking πŸ™‚

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  3. Thank you for the kind mention on the post page and in the podcast. Glad Moira brought up the brightly coloured knickers!
    In regards to the bit in your talk where you discuss the improbable demeanour of the guilty party, Miss Marple brings it up at the end herself when she talks us through the solution and yes that X thought they should appear Y so that they do not arouse suspicion. But Miss Marple says they get it wrong.
    I did nearly choke on my lunch though when I got to the bit where Brad disparages the Joan Hickson adaptation. Clearly you’re not watching them properly Brad lol

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    • “Miss Marple brings it up at the end herself when she talks us through the solution and yes that X thought they should appear Y so that they do not arouse suspicion. But Miss Marple says they get it wrong.”

      This. I just wanted to post this as well. Because it’s also maybe the books biggest clue towards the killer. Not one that could work in court, but one that helps Muss Marple with the deduction

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    • Possibly I misunderstood Moira’s point — this is the difficulty with discussing something when you all have about fifteen things you want to raise πŸ™‚ — but I thought she meant they wouldn’t be chatting normally with the doctor regardless of what they’d done: if they’ve split up, they’d be down ,if they’d killed her husband they’d be surely at least a little keyed up. The behaviour they display doesn’t show anything — they just chat light-heartedly, as if they really did have nothing on their minds. Innocent or guilty, something would have shown through. So the error, I thought she was saying, was Christie’s.

      But I could also have that wrong… πŸ™‚

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    • Kate, you know that I’m on Side Hickson and always have been! I just think this one is one of the slower ones, not particularly well cast (neither Leonard nor Lawrence is particularly attractive), and cuts out Stone and Cram. Miss Marple is funny in her handling of Inspector Slack, but I was not as thrilled watching it this time around.

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      • I thought the person playing the vicar was very well cast but I came to the adaptation having really enjoyed their performances in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister and the Good Life so that might have influenced me.

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  4. Thanks for the great podcast. It was lots of fun to listen to it. πŸ™‚

    I think the vicar appears again in Body in the Library and 16:50 from Paddington. Griselda does for sure, but I think Leonard Clement makes a short appearance as well. And then he’s mentioned as dead in the Mirror Cracked, if I remember correctly.

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    • Outstanding recall if that’s the case — even Brad missed that, and he’s read these books 18,456.4 times each!

      When we were discussing which way to go with this second episode, it was floated that we look at “the Mrs. Oliver novels”, say,. and I had to shoot that down because my ability to remember the details across eight books I read over a span of 15 years is somewhat compromised. I defer to my more-able-to-recall-things co-talkers in all these matters, and shall in future deny any responsibility for what may or may not happen outside of the book we’re discussing πŸ˜†

      Thanks for the kind words about the podcast, too. Nice to think we’re finding an audience with these.

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    • Brad did NOT miss that – but if you listen, Brad had just finished saying that he was monopolizing the conversation and I didn’t want to add more. I know that Len is mentioned in TBitL. It’s his son, the railways expert, who offers information to Miss Marple in 4:50 from Paddington. (Do you Brits REALLY say “16:50” in your version of the title???

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  5. A lovely episode about a lovely book! For all its flaws as a puzzle mystery plot, I think this is probably the Christie I most enjoy reading. And the narrator counts for a lot of that. Although I love how funny he is, I also enjoy his more serious moments as well. His uncharacteristically intense sermon partway through the book is a great character moment.
    You know, I think I agree with Brad on the adaptations! Hickson is a much better Marple of course but that older adaptation is awfully slow. With the newer one we also have to ignore the silly Young Jane flashbacks, but once you get past that, the performances are all excellent and very enjoyable. It’s not fair for me to pick on the image quality but I do prefer bright, crisp colours to the universal grey of the Hickson productions…

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      • Yes–you see a young Jane mooning over ( if I recall correctly an apparently already married) love who goes off to war and doesn’t come back. And the older Jane still has his picture and brings it out every once in a while.

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        • Huh. Oh, well, as extensions to a character go it could be worse: the programme-makers could have noticed that the existence of a nephew implies the presence of a sibling, and we could have had a Mr. Marple spin-off series.

          If this happens now, rest assured I will sue the crap out of whoever develops it unless I get a cut of the money.

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          • What utterly shocks me about this thread of comment is that until this moment I have never given thought to Miss Marple having had a sister. Why does Christie never mention the sister??? In They Do It with Mirrors, she goes on and on about her friendship to Ruth and Carrie Louise – who have to be different ages from each other – so even if her sister was much older or much younger (and must have died a long time before we meet Jane), you would THINK that the memories of her sibling would come up at some point, especially when Raymond is around. Am I forgetting something???

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  6. SPOILERS for The Mysterious Affair at Styles in what follows:

    The parallells with Poirot’s first are striking as you allude to. I think it revealed a misunderstanding I had of the plot in Styles. An important point there is the double jeopardy principle. I imagined that it applied already if someone had been arrested, and that was why Poirot is so anxious to prevent a premature arrest, but that can’t be right for then Lawrence Redding would go free.

    Speaking of legalities, I don’t think it is explicitly said that Anne and Lawrence are executed. Lawrence definitely deserves it, but I wonder whether readers would have felt Anne deserved it as well. After all, even the nice vicar felt the victim had it coming.

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      • Also, does Lawrence deserve it more than Anne? I mean, she shoots her husband dead… The precise role of who instigated what will always be up for debate, but the one undisputable fact is who the actual murderer is in this case. Arguably Anne is executed and Laurence may not be depending on how good his lawyer is πŸ™‚

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        • Well, Lawrence tries to commit a second murder, and frame him. It was what makes the doctor convinced he deserves the death penalty. I don’t get the impression Anne was involved in that. Anne would get the death penalty at trial, but she could theoretically be pardoned. Not likely, but I am wondering if Christie wants to avoid rubbing it in the reader’s face, and let them think she might get only prison.

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          • It’s a curious question: how often are we explicitly told about the fates of the criminals in GAD?

            ToimCat (I believe…) made a great point about the sheer number of people who would have been sent to the hangman and how therefore there’s potentially only a handful of executioners linking all the extant GAD works where people are found guilty of capital crimes. But, in the same way that modern crime novels don’t lay on the forthcoming trials and sentencing and likely prison sentences at the end of the book, most GAD works skim over or simply ignore the prospect of punishment.

            As you indicate below, the depth of proof attained wouldn’t, in most cases, stand up in a courtroom anyway, which is doubtless also a part of it, but more than that is the implicitly understanding that the foundations of GAD were based much more in the crime and its solution than the consequences on the criminal. There was plenty of Dickens, or Les Miserables, if you wanted that, and I’d suggest that not dwelling on the subsequent legal wrangling was both a) an attempt by this new-fangled detection to distance itself from the realist novels preceding it and b) the well-spring of much in the way of latter-era GAD where the consequences come into play (Ordeal by Innocence and, er, others).

            I still reckon Anne is hanged and Laurence gets off with a good lawyer, though. He’d absolutely throw her under the bus to ensure his own survival πŸ™‚

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    • I know that in his analysis ofStyles, John Goddard, who is also a legal professional, complains that Christie’s understanding of double jeopardy is flawed in that book. At any rate, I’m glad that this wasn’t her strategy in Vicarage. I think Lawrence and Anne simply wanted to be cleared, not tried and exonerated. Still, it bears repeating that once they HAD been cleared, they should have lain low instead of calling attention to themselves or trying to frame somebody else.

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  7. This made great weekend listening while enjoying a cup of good coffee. I like that each of you builds off one another so easily but still makes complementary views and points of disagreement interesting (e.g., Moira’s observations that characters noticing what others were wearing as unlikely, Brad’s passion for everything Christie … except for Postern of Fate and JJ’s ability to find insights that I would not see otherwise).

    For me, Miss Marple feels different here (e.g., more active and more a busybody) than the omniscient, sentient one of A Murder is Announced or The Moving Finger but no less enjoyable.

    You three made a wonderful book all more special and I look forward to the next spoiler review (having voted for Ackroyd). Thanks for that.

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    • Thanks, Scott, I really appreciate the feedback — we’re slowing convincing ourselves to work through the whole canon, so it’s nice to know that at least one member of the audience isn’t put off by the prospect of our wittering on and on…!

      I’m keen to reread The Moving Finger in light of something Brad said about it a while ago, and the fact that Christie is still trying to get us used to Marple seems to help in her feeling less omniscient here as there, I’d agree.

      I just realised, too, that I forgot to mention at the time about the tennis racket being thrown down on the grass — did anyone else get the impression Christie put this in intending to do more with it and then just…forgot about it? It was dropped in with such significance to my eye, but then never referred to again.

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      • Yea, I thought Christie meant to put suspicion on Lettice somehow with the racquet. I read the book just yesterday in anticipation of the podcast but the details are still fuzzy in my head. I struggle a lot with mysteries that hinge on timetables and timings and Vicarage is the most confusing of them all. The timings and the clock being ahead confused me completely.

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        • I think the clock timings are confusing at least in part because Christie does such a bad job of integrating it clearly. As I believe I say in the episode, it doesn’t make sense, and adds to the impression that she just wrote this one straight through without much revision.

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            • I think this might have been at the point in her career where she was always trying to have a “manuscript in hand” ahead of the publisher’s schedule. So possibly the result of trying to write quickly is that the plot’s different elements are not quite as rounded an integrated as they might be. Carr has a few novels like this from this “Five books a year” phase…

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  8. I voted Cards on the Table as well. It would be nice to have it in comparison with Problem of the Green Capsule with both being psychological mysteries πŸ˜€ I have fond memories of your carr vs christie post a couple of years ago that compared death on the Nile with He Who Whispers

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    • I, too, have fond memories of that post — it was a lot of fun picking two books to put head-to-head. I only wish I had the time for that kind of thing these days!

      Buy, yes, the notion of two ‘psychological’ deductive murder cases is an intriguing one. And, if not The Green Capsule, there’s always the work of Gladys Mitchell πŸ˜„

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  9. Another excellent discussion. I am glad to hear so much appreciation for our narrator here and I think some great points are raised with regards a few aspects of this plot. Brad’s point about the parallels with Styles is excellent and had not occured to me at all, but he’s absolutely right.
    Just in case anyone spends an age trying to figure out how to vote: if you’re viewing this in the WordPress viewer the poll is not present but it can be seen on the actual website. I have now voted for Cards on the Table which is an excellent choice for scope of discussion.

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    • Thanks, Aidan, it didn’t occur to me that there are ways to view this where the means of voting might not be visible. Ah, technology — giving with one hand, and taking with the other…

      And Brad’s very good, isn’t he? I’m almost beginning to not regret inviting him along. Almost.

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      • Heh… I am just glad that enough people referenced having voted to make me look at it again. Happily Cards on the Table was the one I was going to suggest anyway so I was excited it was on offer (I would be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on Mr Shaitana).

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  10. Brad is on the money when he says that there is a paucity of viable suspects once Laurence and Anne are eliminated. As I see it, a typical Christie novel has something going on on 3 levels. On the first level there’s the obvious suspect whom even a novice mystery reader would dismiss as not being the murderer. Christie creates a second level suspect for the more seasoned reader who now starts nosing around for what he/she thinks are subtle clues but which have been placed cannily by Christie to lead the reader down a wild-goose chase. As an example I actually thought I had been clever and sussed out the culprit in Five Little Pigs only to realize that it was exactly what Christie wanted me to think. The third-level suspect is the actual murderer who in several cases turns out to be the first level one dismissed by everyone. Christie usually does a brilliant job at dangling the second-level suspect and hiding the third-level one. But in Vicarage there is no such finesse and elegance. Suspects like Hawes, Archer, Oakes (?), Miss Cram and ,like you’ll observed in the podcast, Mrs. Lestrange are too obvious. Which leaves the vicar and his wife. Someone had said somewhere that maybe Christie was trying to give an impression that she was pulling off another Roger Ackroyd and I guess the vicar was her second-level suspect here. But for some reason it doesn’t work here.

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