Here we go: another Agatha Christie-centred, spoiler-filled discussion betwixt Moira, Brad, and myself, this time looking at her highly-regarded Jane Marple mystery A Murder is Announced (1950).
You know the drill — we’ve read it, talked about it without being coy regarding details as one normally would in a review, and are here to pick it apart for your entertainment and possible fury — so I feel no particular need to go on.
You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below.
The next Spoiler Warning will be October’s discussion of After the Funeral (1953) as per the vote, at which time I’ll probably put up another poll so that you, the listener, can vote for which Christie titles you would like us to discuss in 2022. Assuming anyone has any interest in that, of course.
The third and final series of In GAD We Trust will continue in a fortnight; all previous spoiler-filled discussions can be found here.
44 thoughts on “Spoiler Warning – A Murder is Announced (1950) by Agatha Christie”
I’m embarrassed to confess that you’ve all given me far too much credit (though at the same time I’m extremely flattered that you would). However, before I explain, I’d like to offer a related anecdote:
In the film version of a Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution (the incident might be in the original novel, but I haven’t read it in close to 45 years), the leading lady-damsel in distress is abducted by a brutish villain and carried off in a carriage. As she is pulled out of her rooms, she grabs a bouquet of lilies that had just been presented to her. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are desperate to rescue her, but at first have no idea in which direction she was taken, until Holmes notices a Lily in the road, and then another. They follow these lilies one by one, which she has quite obviously dropped purposely a la Hansel and Gretel, until they arrive to find her at the villain’s den. Also arrived at this location is Holmes’s new-found associate, Sigmund Freud, who has also been working on the case. When Holmes asks Freud how he found the villain’s lair, Freud rattles off a series of clever deductions, similar to those Holmes earlier delivered to him in a classic Holmesian show-off moment. When Freud concludes, Watson sheepishly admits, “we followed a trail of lilies.” It’s a marvelous moment.
I followed a trail of lilies.
Basically, I had merely reached the point (quite early in my mystery reading career, actually) that whenever I come across a character who apparently narrowly escapes death, that person becomes an immediate target of my suspicion. That’s really all I had (except for the fact that [to my recollection] no overt suspicion was ever placed upon Miss Blacklock, which understandably had the effect of reinforcing my suspicion [via the deception expectation principle]).
I really don’t know what properly constitutes “solving a mystery”— but I’m pretty sure I didn’t figure out how Miss Blacklock accomplished it, the Letty/Lotty bit, the pearls, or any of the rest of it. I really didn’t figure anything out other than a strong hunch about the identity of the culprit. I really hoped that hunch would turn out to be wrong, but the fact that it wasn’t was enough to make the book disappointing to me. Admittedly, it’s probably among the most deceptive uses of this device, but still stands to me as a blatant “do not look in this direction” device which could have no other possible effect than to make me look in that direction. Thus, I consider it a brilliantly clever book made regrettably transparent— a monumental “if only…”— by a single, simple, shopworn device… like a box filled with fascinating, subtle, and clever deceptions, but with the words (in big letters) “Miss Blacklock did it” on the label
I must also admit that I never even considered the novel’s other plot flaws which you pointed out, including the lack of a justifiable motive for Rudi’s murder. But the weakness of the central deception was enough to make the book a disappointment for me.
Great insights from all three of you!
“Basically, I had merely reached the point (quite early in my mystery reading career, actually) that whenever I come across a character who apparently narrowly escapes death, that person becomes an immediate target of my suspicion.”
Did Christie invent this trope or popularize it? She certainly relies on it a lot, too much in fact. If someone seems to the victim of an attempted murder, they are almost always the real killer, and the attempt was staged. Yes, there are some exceptions, but not many.
In fact, my recommendation to Sophie Hannah would be to write a book where are these standard Christie tropes turn out to not apply. Have an actor be the victim of an attempted murder, and yet turn out to be completely innocent at the end.
No she didn’t invent the trope (in fact, I’ve had a hard time identifying any devices she DID invent). As a rule, she seems to come up with the best variations on any given existing trope, but for me this is one that remains vulnerable in any form, because it is generally dependent upon the reader never even momentarily considering the possibility of the culprit’s guilt after the event.
There’s an element, too, in that if one is completely fair about what it means to “solve a mystery” — the who, the why, the what clues, all that fully understood from the information provided — there’s no way that “following the lilies” to Letitia’s involvement will also reveal the relationship with Rudi and all that other madness. I wonder if Christie deliberately made the scheme so labyrinthine so that if anyone did spot where she was telling you not to look, they’d hopefully reject it because there seemed to be no motive they could discern from what they were being told.
Well, if that was the case, it really didn’t work for me, because I was in the rather typical mindset of thinking of the work as primarily a “whodunit” and concentrating on the question of “who” alone— and the rather shopworn diversionary tactic had the effect of pointing me in or precisely the right direction. I don’t recall being bothered by the fact that I couldn’t figure out why or how she did it. As I’m sure you believe I was really hoping that the culprit did not turn out to be Letitia. But although I recall being impressed with the various clever clues, they still never overcame the disappointment of being led so directly to the culprit by the “lily” of the overused “failed attack” ploy.
I have the same problem with a different overused clue – the testimony of the “reliable” witness, which has given away one solution after another. Carr did this a lot , starting with It Walks by Night and continuing with the much lauded The Emperor’s Snuff-box where if you don’t take a certain character’s observations at face value, you’ve spotted your killer. Christie used this as well, but most of the time she was more clever about it, as in Death on the Nile and The Pale Horse. And yet, as has been mentioned, casual readers of mystery fiction are going to fall for these tracks. Those of us who read and read and read and read and read mysteries become so saturated with the same ruses that we look carefully to see an author try to appease our suspicions by negating them.
One short passage might have helped early on:
“Could Miss Blacklock herself be behind this game?” asked Sir Henry. “She’s a clever woman.”
“Yes, she’s intelligent enough,” said Craddock hesitantly.
Miss Marple murmured, “Perhaps too intelligent, Inspector. too intelligent and too practical for so fanciful a scheme.”
“And I must add,” said Dermot, “that I was struck by Belle Goedler’s faith in Miss Blacklock’s character. No, I feel certain that Leticia Blacklock would not stoop to something so nefarious.”
“I have to agree with you,” said Miss Marple with a twinkle. “Goodness knows I’ve been wrong before” – Sir Henry snorted – “but I feel instinctively that Leticia Blacklock could not commit murder. I fear we must continue looking elsewhere.”
This goes back to what you were saying in the podcast Brad about Agatha Christie playing on our emotions, questioning and second-guessing ourselves as to whether Miss Blacklock had really done it based on Belle Goedler’s attesting to Miss Blacklock’s character, and questioning Miss Blacklock’s intelligence to then involve herself in such a silly plan. And then she’s quickly scrapped from the suspect’s list and never considered one never again, apart from Miss Marple later in the book. After the solution is revealed, we find out that the real Letitia Blacklock would never have committed such a murder setup the way her sister Charlotte did. The murder plan itself beautifully describes the mindset of both these sisters as with the accounts from others of these two women. I would say the real Letitia Blacklock was more realistic, confined to the realms of reality, whereas, Charlotte wasn’t and I’d add irrational and fanciful. Quite a stark contrast and one, I believe, that alleviates (somewhat) the believability of Charlotte’s murder setup
I listened to two Spoiler episodes while sitting by the pool (87 degrees, 75% humidity) here in Washington, DC. Loved them – perfect way to spend an afternoon. Thank you!
Thanks, Rebecca, I’m always pleased to think people get some enjoyment out of them. Happy future listening!
Thanks for reviewing what is top 3 Christie for me. Happily you all are reviewing another of those later this year.
I like your respective insights that the village of Chipping Cleghorn is as compelling character with its social commentary of that time as any of the wonderful humans in the book. Equally, you all are right that Miss Marple is more of a catalyst that propels rather than dominates the narrative. Interesting how she is such a beloved, memorable character given how little she appears in most of her own stories.
All criticisms raised are fair and if one stands back and looks logically, parts of this stretch all credibility. But where’s the fun in doing that? My favourite works of fiction have at least two characteristics:
1. I remember vividly how I felt and where I was reading AMiA for the first time including almost dropping the book reading it in my grandmother’s home as a young teenager because I thought that the reversal and reveal at the end were so wonderfully surprising.
2. I want to read the book more than once. Having reread AMiA more times than I care to admit and enjoying it each time, I agree this is the best clewed mystery that Christie produced. Ironically, I am not a fan of inverted mysteries and yet take delight spotting each of the brilliant clues as they are inserted with each reread.
Finally you all only briefly mentioned the Hickson and McEwan adaptations. Whilst particularly the latter too often egregiously and unforgivably changed Christie’s plots, each adaptation of AMiA is reasonably faithful to Christie’s book and make good viewing given how much I enjoy this book.
P.S. I am pretty sure that Brad is wrong as there are more than four us listening out here 🙂 Keep going as I enjoy each of these podcasts as well as your respective blog posts. Well done once again.
I’d wager that, in the cold light of day, most classic mystery plots stretch credibility — leave everyday miserablist crap to to the 1970s — but the really great ones don’t get you questioning it until the book is well and truly over. For me, there’s a little too much stretching when the pieces begin to fall into place, but the strengths and invention elsewhere just about save this.
That memory of encountering somehting for the first time is key, isn’t it? True, it doesn’t always remains as exciting — The Plague Court Murders blew my mind on first read, and was ponderous and dull on second — but the lingering impressions of surprise and excitement are hard to top. I don’t reread enough stuff, mainly because I’m always chasing that high from some new, unexperienced book.
And, I’m happy with an audience of four people who engage, rather than 15,000 passive listeners. I got into blogging and podcadting for the opportunity to talk about these things with others nerds, and so long as that happens I’m a happy man. If I was worried about listening figures, I’d have a Patreon or similar; mainly I just wanna talk to people… 🙂
Yes, there is stretching of credibility, but when it comes to the relationship with reality, we really want to have our cake and eat it too, don’t we? I mean, we enjoy a labyrinthine, torturous plot, but we also demand that motivations reflect real human desires, and that actions are within the scope of physical laws. To say that we care nothing about a mystery story’s relationship to the real world strikes me as inaccurate as to say thaa as t we demand it entirely conform to reality.
Agreed — the balance between the entertaining and the ludicrous is important to master, yet impossible to define. This one tips a little too much into the latter for me, but the equally ludicrous Peril at End House is, in my memory at least, a perfectly entertaining though equally bonkers time. Why? Too much therapy would be required to find out…
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Well said – optimising between engaging the reader from start to finish versus losing credibility with an absurd method or motive requires deft ability.
For example, I love Carr’s The Judas Window including the set-up, mid-book reveal, Merrivale in the courtroom without slapstick humour, etc. That said, I still don’t believe the culprit could have have had the skill to accomplish the murder in the way it was done. The chance of that working strike me as ridiculously improbable; nevertheless, I enjoy TJW for all its entertaining strengths despite in my view that blemish.
Yes, the impossible crime is littered with this sort of thing — see Halter’s The Invsible Circle, which I adore and can fully understand why others despise. Everyone has their limits, often varying wildly from book to book and author to author, dependent on our relationship with both.
Great discussion on a great book. I enjoyed the thorough pointing out of the ridiculousness of the plot basis. I don’t remember it ever being made certain that Rudi really was planning to blackmail Miss Blacklock. In some ways she is very vulnerable to blackmail and can’t just say “publish and be damned!”, because the key evidence is right there on her body. The plan is ridiculous, but we accept such weirdness when read many detective stories; I can’t consider it a demerit. Mitzi’s treatment and Miss Marple’s rather unbelievable trap are definitely demerits. I remember All About Agatha saying that the Hickson Marple changed that part of the ending, but I don’t remember how that went.
Of course nothing can take away from the book’s main strength, the wonderful clues. I guess you need a little extra context to understand the “central heating” clue, but once you have it, it’s one of the best. Dropping it so repeatedly and brazenly like that, and right at the beginning, knowing full well that no one can possibly grasp its significance. I think I find it even more impressive than the spelling clues, though those are great as well.
You write, “the plan is ridiculous, but we accept such weirdness when read many detective stories; I can’t consider it a demerit.” But, for all of the admitted greatness of A Murder is Announced, I feel we must consider such “weirdness” as a demerit.
After all, we do expect that the solution to a puzzle plot follows from the puzzle— that is the very essence of clueing. And our model for understanding the dynamics of puzzle and solution— our criterion for judging that the solution does indeed follow from the puzzle— is the world in which we live in and our familiarity with the accepted motivations of human interaction.
We can understand someone killing someone else for a large inheritance or a deep-seated sense of revenge, because people in our world do commit murder for such reasons. But we reject the killing of someone because of the color of their shoes or because their name begins with a vowel. Because if such explanations are spring on us at the denouement, we complain that “we had no way of knowing that,” since nowhere in our life experience do such reasons result in such drastic actions. Call it “fairness” or (more accurately) a fulfillment of our genre expectations, we demand that the solution retrospectively makes sense to us, and “making a sense” is a matter of alignment with the laws of the universe we know. There is admittedly a degree to which we accept the “stretching” of those laws, but there are undoubtedly limits.
The “weirdness” in this case is the setup with the murder game. Miss Blacklock’s motivations for actually wanting to kill someone seem in keeping with many other motives seen in other books and I don’t have an issue with them (within fiction only!). As mentioned in the episode, Rudi seems willing to go along with anything Miss Blacklock asks, and she would have been better off doing him in in a more sensible way. But then so would any of the other characters, had they been the killer instead. I wonder if there is a way out of this setup that fulfils the requirements of believability at all. And we buy into the setup shortly after the start of the book – or not.
I guess my definition of “demerit” is simply “did it affect my enjoyment of the book”? And for me it didn’t. I don’t think I even noticed how strange it was until the podcast pointed it out. But I was not an observant reader 😛
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I think I can rationalize Miss Blacklock’s method of committing the first murder the way she did. It was fear and fear can make one do irrational things. Mix that in with paranoia and delusions then that would make sense, wouldn’t it? Was Charlotte Blacklock really “all there” to begin with compared to her sister Letitia? Throw that in with Rudi’s willingness to commit to the plot that Miss Blacklock proposes. I think this induces in her mind what other reason would he agree so easily to such a plan if there wasn’t anything else in mind — possibly blackmail to ruin her way of life? Why would she even bother Rudi in the first place? More than likely he’d never have recognized her, but Miss Blacklock couldn’t take the risk; he was a threat that needed to be done with. And his acceptance of her murder game plot seals his fate. Unfortunately for Rudi, the money attracted his eye. If he had disagreed with it then she probably would have bumped him off in a less complicated manner. Of course, such a plan doesn’t make sense but Miss Blacklock’s in a mind of her own and will do anything for her to keep her secret concealed. But it doesn’t make sense either attempting to kill your cook in your kitchen while there’s a group of people in the other room, including a police inspector! She could have chosen to bump Rudi off in a less complicated way without any ties leading back to her, but she chose to have everyone believe, with the murder game that she pulled off, that her life was in danger. And Rudi agreeing to this murder game is what hinges on her killing him in this fashion.
Those are just some of my ramblings. I hope it makes some kind of sense!
One of the lovely things about unlikely tales — and I’ve gotten to look at things this way more and more as I read impossible crime fiction — is that whatever justificatrion you can put on something to make a plot work must be right, because the plot did work — that’s why the story was told, after all.
So, if an impossible crime effect comes off one time in 30…fine, the story that gets written is about that one time and not the other twenty-nine. It’s long odds, and it might take a bit of a strecth to accept it…but we’re often reading these things so that we can be surprised by a confluence fo events. We’re just happier to accept the odds sometimes than we are others. No-one knows why.
What I’m saying is, yes, your ideas above make perfect sense, because they enabled you to believe possible something that you saw happen on the page in front of you. Bravo!
So I’m guessing you didn’t happen to see of the things that I drew from my conclusions concerning Miss Letitia Blacklock, aka Charlotte Blacklock?
I don’t think I can agree with you here, Brian. Your argument pre-supposes that these people live in a “rational” world where most people wouldn’t conceive of a plan like this unless they were driven to it by fear. But there is a level of unreality in Christie-land, one where perfectly rational people disguise themselves as their bearded cousin or their best friend’s butler, where a woman pretends to shoot a man so they can have a joint alibi in a small closed setting, instead of just pushing his wife off a pyramid – and don’t get me started on Evil Under the Sun! Charlotte was “a foolish, affectionate creature” compared to her sister, but for a while she managed to summon her inner Leticia and attend to the dozen details that formed her Murder plan. Then it all starts to fall apart, and she changes, spiraling down until her blatant attempt to murder Mitzi.
There’s a matter of class going on here too: Rudi Scherz is “just” a foreigner- and not a very nice one, too. His greed makes him stupid, like Mr. Amberiotis in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe or Mrs. Nicoletis in Hickory Dickory Dock. Sadly, the Christie-world is full of characters like them: non-British, immoral and easily disposed of.
I’m sure Miss Blacklock’s mood was exacerbated by the presence of Dora, whose anxiety for her friend is at a fever pitch throughout. The great tragedy is that Charlotte’s kindness to Bunny is her undoing, but it also shows us the contrast between a woman who is cool and calm enough to live with secrets and one who is incapable of that. I’ll bet that if she hadn’t taken in Bunny, she might have gotten away with Rudi’s over-the-top-but-this-ain’t-reality murder; up till then, she had the part of Leticia down cold.
Sadly, the Christie-world is full of characters like them: non-British, immoral and easily disposed of.
This is a magnificent point, brilliantly made. For a woman who is attributed for saying that “every murderer is somebody’s old friend”, Christie’s victims — especially in secondary and tertiary murders — do have a tendency to fall into the “Oh, well, never mind” strata of things. Dora here is a notable exception, which I think is a deliberate choice to given more weight to a scheme even Christie knew was pretty bonkers.
And since the complexity of scheme is one of the sticking points for this book, next time I suggest we take on something less convoluted. The Face on the Cutting Room Floor, perhaps…?
My problem with the idea that the story is written about the one time in 30 a plot does come off is that the culprit depends on it being the one time in 30… which I find difficult to believe. Remarkable things admittedly do happen every once in a while, and while some people hope on them happening, few people count on it.
This is similar to the reason I feel Mary Astor was miscast in The Maltese Falcon (figure THAT one out without further explanation!). I don’t find it impossible to believe that Humphrey Bogart could be attracted to the 1941 model Mary Astor— but a 1941 model Mary Astor does not strike me as believable as a woman who could depend upon attracting any man she wished to, an ability essential to her plans.
Similarly, if a remarkable coincidence inspires a culprit to capitalize on it, I can entirely buy it. But if a culprit designs a plan that is dependent upon a remarkable coincidence occurring, there is a psychological in credibility in play… I have trouble believing that even a crazed murderer would bet so far against the odds.
Yeah, I now what you mean (on all counts!). I composed a longer reply, but I didn’t want to give the impression I was trying to change anyone’s mind — there will certainly be times when an unlikely-as-all-hell event coming off will bother more than others, and I’m know I’m not willing to accept absolutely anything no matter how unlikely. Problem is, I can’t quantify it. I shall just have to keep an eye out for instances from this point on and see if I can work out — purely for my own satisfaction, y’understand — what the distinction is.
I don’t think I can quantify it either. I just know it’s the reason why I have problem with the central deception on Brand’s Tour de Force— it’s not that I can’t believe that the deception couldn’t fool someone, it’s just that I don’t think that anyone— even a slightly unhinged killer— would have any sense of confidence that it would come off. I find it particularly frustrating because other than that one central in credibility, I consider it one of Brand’s most beautifully clued mysteries— indeed, were it not for the central “flaw” (as I see it— I realize others might not consider it so)) I might prefer it even to Death of Jezebel. Thus for me it’s a lot like A Murder is Announced— a wonderful whodunit marred by a central deficit.
Great discussion of a great book. I agree that the plot is silly, but the clueing is lovely.
There are a few clues that Miss Marple does not mention in her summing up but the reader can pick up on. One is a that Letty did not like make-up (being afflicted with a man’s mind) but a couple of chapters later we see Miss Blacklock hurry to powder her face when the police arrive. It may also be a clue that Miss Blacklock participates in evading the rationing regulations, which arguably conflicts with how her character is described by Mrs. Goedler.
I also thought it unfortunate that Christie slipped and a few times referred to Miss Blacklock by her false name, though it is worth observing that she makes no similar attempt for “Julia”.
Regarding Miss Hinchcliffe, she is giving mannish atributes on many occassions. On the murder night she is described as standing in a masculine way, she is later said to be tall as a man, she wears trousers, etc. However, she feels men are dirty dogs. I think she probably is a lesbian. I am guessing many would have seen her as such a the time, while being subtle enough that it would not cause a scandal among the reading public.
I enjoyed all the characters in the book. The vicar and his wife are hilarious. Quite different from the Clements, but equally sympathetic. And Christie’s usual brand of unthreating cynicism is on full-display, as you mention in Mrs Swettenham’s reaction.
I have a theory that post-WW2 is when Christie’s books starts being self-conscious about the fact that they they depict the changes in society. Obviously anyone who reads her 1920s or 1930s work can see that the society she depicts is different from Victorian or Edwardian England, but explicit comparisons to the past and mentions of how things have changed are I think much more common from this point on.
I have a theory that post-WW2 is when Christie’s books starts being self-conscious about the fact that they they depict the changes in society.
Yeah, this is a solid point. The societal upheaval of the war would have been difficult to ignore or avoid, and Christie wanted to continue to work in the milieu that had been so rewarding for her for 25 years. As such, she needs to lampshade the differences, almost as a way of acknowledging that what she’s writing is no longer representative of the time in which she’s setting them (especially apparent by the 1960s). Then she just…carries on as she always has. And why not? She was good at it, after all 🙂
I am struck by the comparison with Ngaio Marsh who continued writing the same types of books without acknowledging anything had changed.
Yeah, excellent point. I read enough Marsh to know that she doesn’t quite write as I would like her to, and gave up on account of how samey they generally felt — Death in a White Tie aside, which is still my favourite of hers.
I wonder if Marsh was aided by police investigative methods being pretty much the same before WW2 as after — indeed, probably largely unchanged now, since we recognise so much of what occurs in these old books — but the Genius Detective of fiction went out of vogue pretty darn quick and so was left floundering.
Certainly Carr seemed less interested in his amateurs post-war, and abandonded the 20th century as often as he could, perhaps in part because he saw their day was done. Sayers was done with Wimsey by then…hmm, now I’m intrigued.
In Death at the Dolphin, Peregrine wonders if Mr Conducis has more than a friendly interest in him. He refers to one of the actors as “not 100% he-man”, and the frightful child actor calls him “that camp!”. “It was safe to let him dress with the boy”, Peregrine assures Alleyn.
I’m just rereading Black As He’s Painted, where she takes in an ex-colony gaining independence, and racism among those who live near its Kensington embassy. (She’s against it, though the “good” characters show some lingering prejudices.)
Not exactly an unchanged world.
A changed world, perhaps, just occupied by the same people.
No acknowledgment might be an exaggeration on my part. But her last book is set in the early 1980ies, and anyone who read it might think it was set in the 1950ies or even earlier.
I think I read somewhere Agatha Christie’s inspiration for Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd. I wish I remember where I read it from.
Though Miss Hinchcliffe is described as masculine with masculine traits, it doesn’t mean that Miss Murgatroyd is in a romantic relationship with her. Miss Hinchcliffe could very well be a lesbian but it doesn’t mean that Murgatroyd is. There’s certainly nothing in the text, as far as I could see, that indicates that they’re both romantically linked. Perhaps Hinch’s feelings were romantic – more than friends – which would be a big contrast to Murgatroyd’s from the perspective of mere friendship, nothing more. Those enamored feelings could be evident from Hinch’s outburst at the end towards Miss Blacklock for killing her companion.
Since Christie doesn’t explicitly say in the book that those two were lesbians it keeps us readers guessing till doomsday. Agatha Christie doesn’t mention whether they kissed or held hands like the adaptation with Geraldine McEwan (which I dislike by the way). I love that ambiguity because, in part, it keeps readers returning to this lovely book.
I like Moira’s point about coding and hints in the text, but I think there’s a deliberate vagueness here for several reasons: not least so Christie could deny any homosexual intent if it was raised.
God, imagine not even being able to put fictional lesbians in your murder mystery without worrying about backlash. As if the world hadn’t had bigger concerns within living memory.
Great discussion as always. I wish that I had reread the book prior to listening if only so I could offer some informed opinion about the issues discussed both there and here.
As others have suggested, I do remember thinking that the clues here were great. I would add that I loved the theatrically of the setup and I remember thinking that the locals were all drawn well.
The discussion about how active MM is in the plot was interesting. I think AC was usually very good about figuring out what exactly MM could do herself credibly. I think that is one of the reasons these stories stand up so well compared to some other amateur sleuth tales.
Yes, the plan is incredible and it is possibly a problem. Jim suggests above that there is an argument that a plan might rarely work and that we can read a story and accept that this is that rare time that everything came into alignment. I agree and have employed that argument a few times myself.
The problem is when you can employ a simpler, equally neat solution to a problem to solve it. When an easier, less risky plan is overlooked it often feels more contrived. As was pointed out, there were easier ways to accomplish the killer’s goal and it was never made clear (at least to my memory) why they couldn’t employ them. Still, I agree that it works in spite of some of that because the clues feel fair and I think some of them are very well hidden or masked here.
I look forward to the next of these and hope for more discussions in the future. As others point out, definitely more than four of us listening!
The problem is when you can employ a simpler, equally neat solution to a problem to solve it
See, there are defintiely times when this is a problem for me — The Phantom Passage by Paul Halter cold be resolved so much more easily, though it would be a far less entertaining book — but on the whole I’m happier with overlycomplex schemes than I am with tedious ones. I’ll willingly point out that the plot here makes no sense, but it doesn’t bother me, because the puzzle plot is essentialy a creative endeavour and so creativity, however bonkers, is to be tolerated.
It becomes more of a problem for me when ludicrous things things happen in supposedly “straight” novels of serious crime — McBain’s 87th Precinct series, or the modern procedurals of Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson. Something like Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz makes an oscillating amount of sense throughout, but is supposed to be puzzle-based fun so gets a pass. Practically all of Freeman Wills Crofts’ novels could be a damn sight simpler if the criminals just walked up to their victim in a dark alley and brained them with a spanner, but the fun is in the ludicrous lengths of evasion and detection.
And I have no idea how better to quantify my thoughts than that. Sometimes you’re just willing ot grant a book a pass, aren’t you?
Often Christie’s murderers have a convoluted plan so that they won’t even be suspected, despite their ample motive. Usually they would be better off committing the murder in a less spectacular way, and just relying on the police not getting enough evidence, but you can understand they would see that as risky.
In this book though, Miss Blacklock could have killed Rudy in some other way, and no one would probably suspect her anyway since they have no idea of her motive.
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I think this is where we can draw a clear delineation between the Humdrums and everyone else: Rudi being hit on the head and left by the side of the road is as Connington or Crofts a starting point as one could imagine. Dressing it up as a false hold-up/robbery with an advert in the newspaper to pull in unwitting witnesses…that’s where the machinations of a Christie or a Carr come in.
Great Discussion of a great book. I agree that the nature of the murder plot is bonkers, but the rest is so fantastic, that it almost doesn’t matter. The clueing is maybe second to no other Christie books.
I just have to disagree with you on one point and that isn’t Christie related at all. Dumbledore being gay is in my opinion strongly hinted at in the last book. There’s even a letter where he writes to Grindelwald how much he misses him, when they can’t spend time together. But this is off-topic, I guess. 😉
Haha, anything mentioned in the podcast is on topic, worry not ☺️ I don’t remember that letter, it’s been a fair number of years since I read any HP…maybe that’s a sign of what she had in mind, but haven’t there been two movies (one of them written by Rowling, if I remember correctly) since then without a hint of anything else? I’m calling shenanigans… 😄
I left the movies out on purpose, because a.) I think the second one is pretty bad and b.) both came out long after Rowling’s statement, and she could have added anything in as she wanted to fit her statement. But in the first one Dumbledore doesn’t appear, so it doesn’t count. And the second one actually has a scene, in which he sees Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised and touches the mirror.
Gotta be honest, I do not remember that scene in the second one…though, I found it pretty hard to watch, so maybe that accounts for my ignorance.