Murder at the Vicarage

I just reread ‘Murder at the Vicarage.’ Reading a mystery when you already know the solution is an unusual exercise. It’s a great way to study the structure of the story and, under the spell of Agatha Christie, to doubt your own memory of who-dunnit. Yes, after having read this classic mystery in my distant past and seeing countless dramatizations, Agatha Christie managed to make me doubt what I knew to be true!

At one point I told myself I know that X shot the victim—I even remembered how Miss Marple solved the mystery—but the dangling red herrings had me almost convinced that I was remembering the killer from one of those TV-based revisions in which the solution is altered to make it better for he screen. I read her Poirot Halloween story last Halloween, right after having seen a David Suchet dramatization. The identity of the killer wasn’t changed but the motive and circumstances were altered substantially.

Not so for ‘Murder at the Vicarage.’ It was exactly as I remembered and yet I was drawn along like on the hunt after misleading red herrings.

Did I find what I was looking for? Yes. Being led down those garden paths reminded me to create credible alternatives to the actual solution. Red herrings have to be really RED! I was also reminded of why I adore Miss Marple in her original state—on the page and in Christie’s words. I book-marked the following passage in which Miss Marple explains to the vicar and the police the origin of her “unwomanly” fascination with murder:


“You see, she began at last, “living alone, as I do, in a rather out-of-the-way part of the world, on has to have a hobby. There is, of course, woolwork and Guides, and Welfare, and sketching, but my hobby is—and always has been Human Nature. So varied—and so fascinating. And, of course, in a small village, with nothing to distract one, one has such ample opportunity for becoming what I might call proficient in one’s study…”


Miss Marple, I could not agree more!




    • Candy Korman

      Murder at the Vicarage is one of Christie’s “puzzle” mysteries. She gives you all sorts of clues and then plays sleight-of-hand with red herrings to throw you off the track. These are not deep or particularly dark stories, but they are about deception, greed, lust, envy, etc. Human Nature 101. Right after Vicarage I reread The Body in the Library. This is another on that list of games Christie plays with the reader, while the characters deceive one another. By the end of each story, the reader knows who AND why. In contemporary mysteries the why is sometimes a psychological back story. Christie tried this later on. Her Halloween book with Poirot rants about aimless young people and how the world has changed. The characters are constantly proposing the teenagers as killers. It was interesting and, again, one of the things Christie uses to distract the reader. I like her best when she gives solid, classic motives. You can’t go wrong with the Vicar & Miss Marple in terms of straight out who-dunnits.

  1. I wonder if there’s an element of ‘mystery’ that all of us should include in our writing? I’m not talking classic mystery here but rather a way to build tension and anticipation by making the reader wonder about the outcome. In a romance, this could be whether there will be a happy ending, or not. Happy endings are necessary in romance novels but in other genres, a good resolution is sufficient. So which way will the author jump?
    Sorry, not quite awake yet. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I think you are WIDE awake!
      Tension—as in the curiosity inspired in a reader by uncertainty—is essential in just about every genre! Perhaps it’s not about Red Herrings in a romance, but it is about overcoming obstacles to get to the ‘happily ever after.’ And where would an adventure, science fiction or fantasy novel be without challenges faced by the protagonist? I think you are on to something.