Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Murder Is Announced

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 North Bentham News and Chipping-Cleghorn Gazette, Personals
Now who, Miss Lemon asks, could resist such a tempting little advert?

Certainly not any of the residents of Chipping Cleghorn, who show up, each in turn, at the home of Letitia Blacklock, expecting at the very least to get a decent glass of sherry, if not a game of murder.

There's Mrs. Swettenham -- who finds the advertisement too strange: "Not at all like Letitia Blacklock, who always seems to me such a sensible woman" -- and her son, Edmund. The Easterbrooks (Colonel and Mrs.), Bunch Harmon, the vicar's wife, and the cozily situated Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, as well as some quite distant cousins of Miss Blacklock and her hysterical cook Mitzi, from somewhere in middle Europe.

When the clock chimes half past six, however, the murder turns out to be no game at all. The lights go out, shots are fired, and a bullet finds its mark in the body of one Rudi Scherz, a Swiss national working at the Royal Spa Hotel in Mendenham Wells. Two others barely miss Miss Blacklock, the unsuspecting hostess.

The obvious questions for Inspector Craddock are these: 1) Who placed the notice announcing the murder for all and sundry to see? 2) What was Rudi Scherz doing at Little Paddocks? 3) Was someone trying to kill Miss Blacklock? 4) What on earth is the motive?

True to Agatha Christie in top form, A Murder Is Announced folds into a classically perplexing puzzle.

A little investigating reveals that Miss Blacklock is likely to inherit a large sum of money, should her employer's widow predecease Miss Blacklock. And that, my dear readers, seems likely to happen soon.

Of course it takes a villager to know a village, and so Miss Jane Marple descends upon Chipping Cleghorn, armed with her knitting needles and the village parallels required to untangle this mysterious small-town murder.

Mrs. Christie has oft been criticized (as recently as in the newly published Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James) for her stereotyped characters and sleight of hand. Miss Lemon thinks this unfair. What many of Mrs. Christie's critics fail to recognize is her mastery at interpreting character quirks, her gift for writing snappy dialogue and most of all, her ingenious plotting skills. All of these graces are present here.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Miss L! I can't wait to read it. I think I may have seen the Joan Hickson version a long, long time ago? I love what you wrote at the end. I'm constantly amazed in my reading of AC, how astute she is in her knowledge of human behavior. Her characters and situations are anything but wooden. They are fresh and fascinating and sometimes pretty twisted. I just love her work.