A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

February’s book of the month for the Read Christie 2020 Challenge is A Murder is Announced, a Miss Marple novel from 1950. This month’s theme for the challenge is ‘a story Christie loved’ and apparently this is one that she mentioned in a 1972 letter to a fan as being a current favourite. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why she liked it so much.

A Murder is Announced is set in the quiet little village of Chipping Cleghorn where, as the novel opens, the residents are waking up to an unusual notice in their local newspaper:

A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.

The villagers are intrigued and, believing it must be an invitation to a party game of some sort, they all make their way to Little Paddocks, the home of Miss Letitia Blacklock, at the stated time. Miss Blacklock herself denies having anything to do with the announcement – as do the other members of her household – but she makes her neighbours welcome anyway. They are all gathered together inside when the clock strikes 6.30, the lights go out and shots are fired. When the lights are turned back on, a man is found dead on the floor. It seems it wasn’t a game after all…

Of all the Christie novels I’ve read, this has one of the best openings: first an introduction to each character in turn as we jump from house to house as newspapers are opened and the announcement is read; then the murder scene itself – a wonderful set piece with all of the suspects together in one place. We are given many of the clues we need in that scene and the rest in the chapters that follow, so that the reader has at least a chance of solving the mystery before the truth is revealed. I managed to work out parts of it, but not the whole thing and the eventual solution came as a surprise to me.

What really makes this book stand out, though, is the excellent characterisation, with characters drawn from a range of different social backgrounds. There’s Bunny – Miss Bunner – an old school friend of Miss Blacklock’s who has fallen on hard times and has been invited to stay at Little Paddocks; there are Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, two unmarried women who live together and whose relationship is portrayed with warmth and affection; Phillipa Haymes, a young mother left to raise her son alone in the aftermath of the Second World War; Colonel Easterbrook, who thinks he knows all there is to know about India; and the Reverend Julian Harmon and his cheerful, tactless wife ‘Bunch’, who happens to be the goddaughter of Jane Marple.

It is through her connection with Bunch that Miss Marple comes into the story (surprisingly late – the murder has been committed and an investigation by the police is well under way before she makes her first appearance). Miss Marple solves the mystery both through the usual methods of observing, deducting and asking questions, and through her knowledge of small villages like Chipping Cleghorn and how they have changed since the war. ‘Fifteen years ago, one knew who everybody was,’ she says, ‘but now the big houses have been sold, and the cottages have been converted and changed. And people just come – and all you know about them is what they say of themselves.’

The one aspect of this book that I didn’t like was the portrayal of Mitzi, the cook at Little Paddocks who is a refugee from an unspecified Central European country. We are told that Mitzi has had some traumatic experiences during the war, yet the other characters seem to treat her with an unusual level of unkindness and insensitivity, ridiculing her for her screaming and crying and fear of the police. That was the only thing that slightly spoiled my enjoyment of what was otherwise a perfect murder mystery.

This year’s Read Christie challenge is only two months old and already I’ve read two great books that I’ve loved – this one and Murder on the Orient Express. I’m looking forward to next month’s selection!

21 thoughts on “A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

  1. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    I’ve enjoyed all the Marple and Poirot books I’ve read by Agatha Christie, but I’m wondering whether the principles underlying their structure would transfer to cozy mystery in any era? Any thoughts?

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I would have thought so. Obviously methods of crime solving have changed over the years, but I don’t see why the structure should be any different.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, sadly I do always expect some racism in Christie’s books, but I thought the portrayal of Mitzi, as a war refugee, was a bit cruel. I still thought this was a great mystery, though – probably my favourite Marple, although I haven’t read all of them yet.

  2. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I would say that this one is one of Christie’s best, it’s certainly my favorite Miss Marpel. I share your unease about that one particular aspect of the story, but I suppose it was very much of its time. I sometimes wonder what future generations may find problematic about our own contemporary literature.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read all of the Miss Marple books, but this is the best one I’ve read so far. And yes, I’m sure readers in the future will be shocked by some of the things in today’s fiction!

  3. FictionFan says:

    I agree with every word you say about this one – poor Mitzi is the one weakness in an otherwise brilliant book. Bunny is one of my favourite Christie characters and Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd are a wonderful pairing. One of her (many) best books!

  4. Jo says:

    I was convinced I had read this, but it turns out I haven’t. I love the structure of some of Christie’s books and it sounds like this is one which does it very well.

    The Joan Hickson version is much more like the book. The later one, whilst good I know heavily changes some of the characters but the basic of the plot is the same.

    Must go find it and read it now.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this is a well structured one with a perfect opening. I haven’t seen any adaptations, but I would like to now that I’ve read the book to see how they compare.

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