The Queen of Mystery has come to Harper Collins! Agatha Christie, the acknowledged mistress of suspense—creator of indomitable sleuth Miss Marple, meticulous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and so many other unforgettable characters—brings her entire oeuvre of ingenious whodunits, locked room mysteries, and perplexing puzzles to Harper Paperbacks. The Murder at the Vicarage was Christie’s very first mystery to feature her most popular investigator—as a dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide.
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.”
From the looks of it the beginning of the Miss Marple series did not get rave reviews. Odd as it sounds now, it seems to be one of her most popular series. If the book had been published now, do you think it would have gotten the same reception, would it have been dropped by the publisher?