Hello there, I’m back from my trips! I’ll have a rummage through my photographs at some point, and put some up for you to enjoy. Colin did *quite* well at preventing me from reading all the time, but I still managed to read quite a few books, including a mammoth one. And, being the contrary type, the first two I read weren’t even on the list I made. The first was The Seraphim Room by Edith Olivier, which I finished on the train down to Somerset, but the second was a definite read-it-on-a-whim book – usually the most fun. The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) by Agatha Christie somehow leaped to the top of the tbr pile, despite not being anywhere in sight beforehand.
Although my reading is quite diverse now – well, quite diverse – it used to go in very focused swathes. Enid Blyton – Goosebumps – Point Horror – Sweet Valley High (ahem) – Agatha Christie – AA Milne – everything else. When I was on the trail of an author or series, I read very little else for a long time. And, as you can see, Agatha Christie was one of them – and back in about 1999-2001 I read lots and lots by the Mistress of Mystery, the Empress of Enigmas, the Doyenne of Detectives… feel free to come up with your own.
Somehow it had been five and a half years since I last read a Christie novel (that one being At Bertram’s Hotel) and I had a sudden hankering for another. And it seemed quite ridiculous that, having grown up in a vicarage, that I hadn’t read The Murder in the Vicarage. So that was the one I pulled off the shelf and took on holiday.
The Murder at the Vicarage is the first novel featuring Miss Marple (although she had previously popped up in a short story, my resident Christie-expert [Colin] tells me) and is narrated by the vicar whose home is unfortunately the scene of said murder. I won’t go through all the various characters and connections, because they’re much the same as any Christie novel. I don’t mean they’re stereotypes, but rather that they have complex relationships; secrets and lies; affinities and enmities – all the usual, delicious ingredients for a proper murder mystery.
All of that I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting, what I had somehow either forgotten or never noticed, was how funny Christie is. The problems the vicar and his wife have with their servant are written so amusingly, I laughed out loud a few times. She also has the drifting ‘oh gosh how we simply shrieked’ type down pat too. Annoyingly I’ve left the book at home, so I can’t quote sections to you… so you’ll have to take my word for it.
I only had two problems with The Murder at the Vicarage. Firstly, I wasn’t bowled over by the solution – Dame A can sometimes write such brilliant denouements, that this one didn’t quite live up to her genius for plot. Secondly, although Miss Marple’s first novel, she didn’t feature very much, and I mourned her absence because I love Jane Marple. Her character hadn’t quite settled down to the Miss M we know and love, but her interest in ‘human nature’, and her catalogue of seemingly unrelated anecdotes to help her deduce – they were present and correct. I just wanted more of her in the novel.
But I imagine there are quite a few of us in the same boat – we watch Christie adaptations on TV, and have read a fair few of her novels over the years, but maybe not for a while – and don’t quite rate her as a good prose stylist or delineater of character, etc. I think it’s worth looking again, and reinvestigating the Dame. I’m definitely glad I did.
Books to get Stuck into:
To be honest, I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by some of the other Golden Age and pre-Golden Age detective fiction writers. In comparison to Christie’s plots, they just seem a bit poor – Christie never springs surprises on you at the last minute; the clues are always there if you look closely enough. So I’ve picked a couple of my favourite Christies:
And Then There Were None – my favourite, and Colin’s favourite, even without Poirot or Marple or any detective at all – it’s probably her cleverest story. Ten people are mysteriously invited to an island, and are even more mysteriously killed off one by one…
The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side – a Miss Marple, with a simply brilliant plot, and a good one to get a feel for AC if – goodness me – you’ve not read one before.