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!