A Murder is Announced – Agatha Christie (1950)

MurderIsAnnouncedIf there’s a better village mystery than A Murder is Announced, please tell me so I can scramble to read it.  Admittedly, I haven’t read many of these, so that statement might come across as hopelessly naive.  I don’t mind – all I know is that this one provided everything I was looking for.

I’ve enjoyed my nascent reading of Agatha Christie so far.  When picking my least favorite novel has me scratching my head between The Hollow and Cards on the Table, you know I’ve been having a good run.  That run keeps going with Murder is Announced.  It doesn’t pack an emotional punch that’s going to stay with me like Murder in Retrospect, but this may be the most fun I’ve had with Christie so far.

There’s almost a John Dickson Carr-like hook to this one.  An advertisement is placed in a local paper declaring that a murder will occur at a particular residence at 6:30 pm.    Half the village shows up out of curiosity, with most thinking that a murder game will be played.  As the clock strikes 6:30, the lights go out, the door swings open, and an armed man fires two shots into the crowd.  Spinning around, the assailant fires another shot and then crumples to the floor.  He’s dead, killed by a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I draw the parallel to Carr because this is one of those books where you hear that little plot summary and you think “I’m reading that one”.  It just tugs at the imagination.  Why was the murder announced?  What really happened at the crime scene?  How did it all unfold before a room packed with witnesses?

You come for the mystery, you stay for the village.  Christie captures this glimpse into small town England beautifully and it all seems very much alive.  I was falling in love with characters by the end of the chapters that introduced them, especially the most dimwitted ones.  Creating this vibrant world is exactly what Carr failed to do in his one disastrous foray into a village mystery with a book published the same year – Night at the Mocking Widow (1950).

Although I tend to prefer my mysteries set between 1930 and 1945, A Murder is Announced provides an exquisite view into how life had changed in post war England.  That’s really what made this novel for me.  The laws around rationing and bartering, the inability of the once rich to find a dependable servant, the presence of European refugees, the introduction of the stranger into once close-knit village life – I ate it all up.  You glean a lot about times gone by from GAD reading, but I think this book in particular provided a fountain of little nuances.

Oh yeah, well, there is a mystery too…  I mean, this is solid Christie so you know what to expect.  There’s an excellent cast of suspects, each with their own curious evasions when questioned by the police.  There’s questions of identity and wills and motives.  There’s more murders as the story goes on, and some surprising ones at that.  There’s a crazy set of twists, that then unfold into another set of twists, all wrapping up most satisfyingly.

This is another Christie book where unfortunately I spotted the killer.  I had them on my radar early in the story, but then things clicked into place about 2/3rds of the way through.  Similar to my experience with Crooked House, once the cards fell into place, I could spot the misdirection as it happened.  But this was some beautiful misdirection.  I was watching an artist at their craft, and enjoying every bit of it.  I really hate seeing through a mystery, but this is one case where I enjoyed it just as much as if I hadn’t.  In fact, you get to spot all of those little tricks as they happen and really appreciate the nuance and the directing of the reader’s attention.

To that degree, I think that where A Murder is Announced really excels is the cluing.  The clues are there, bristling, yet lying just beneath the surface of perception.  Of course, all detective novels are theoretically like this.  Come the end of most mysteries, the author pulls the curtain back and points out all of the obvious clues that you missed.  Somehow though with this book, the cluing just seems to be taken on another level.  The clues feel organic, not slipped in.

I mentioned above that A Murder is Announced doesn’t pack the emotional punch of Murder in Retrospect, and I’ll stand by that.  However, there is a definite sadness in the motives and the victims with this one.  It won’t haunt me, but there are a few scenes that definitely tug at the heart when you look back at them.

Of course, you’ve probably read A Murder is Announced already.  If you haven’t, drop everything and read it, it’s that good.

The film

Although Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery tried to direct me towards the Joan Hickson version of A Murder is Announced, I ended up giving in to convenience and watching the one version immediately available – the 2005 adaptation staring Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.  It was a fine adaptation for the most part.  The cast was collapsed and there were a few invented storylines, but for the most part the story was faithful to the essence of the book.  The ending was altered quite a bit, but this is the one case I’ve encountered where the change actually worked out, rather than butchering the author’s work.

It was a treat to repeat the plot of the book so soon after reading it and notice all of those beautiful clues that Christie drops right and left.  My biggest complaint would be the reduced set of characters.  Each personality in the novel captures such a different spark that it was a shame to see some of them left out or combined.

While I’ve settled on David Suchet as my Poirot, I don’t quite think McEwan nailed Miss Marple.  She was satisfactory and her character played into the overall vibe of the film, but she isn’t quite what I had in mind while reading the book.  Maybe a followup with Joan Hickson is in order…

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20 thoughts on “A Murder is Announced – Agatha Christie (1950)”

  1. I re-read this one last month and really enjoyed it. Definitely agree with your sentiments, though I am impressed with how good you seem to be in spotting Christie’s killers. I suppose heavy doses of Carr and the like may have schooled you in such matters. What Christie do you think you will read next?

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    1. I wish I was horrible at spotting Christie’s killers! It would certainly be more fun that way. It’s strange because I’m awful at spotting Carr’s killers. Out of the 50 odd JDC books that I’ve read I think I’ve only been certain about the killer four or five times.

      My next Christie will absolutely be After the Funeral. It comes highly recommended from so many people, plus Brad had it rated #1 in his list of Five Christie Books to Read Before They’re Spoiled For You. I just hope I don’t see through the illusion with that one!

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      1. I too admire your ability, but I still don’t think you are going to nail After the Funeral. If you do, I don’t know if I’m jealous of your perception or sympathetic that you never get the joy of being surprised. Personally, I know Christie inside and out, and she does have patterns you can spot after so long. Even if you don’t know HOW the crime was accomplished, you can often guess the killer by the character types, because the killer is usually one type. More often than not, there’s a guy and girl who are obviously meant to be together, and will be by the book’s end, so obviously neither of them is the one…but even knowing those patterns as well as I do, I still guess right maybe 50% of the time, or less.

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      2. It’s always nice that even if you figure out the “who”, you haven’t necessarily figured out the “how”. I was certain I spotted the killer in Death Comes as the End, but I still couldn’t figure out for the life of me how the first murder was committed. That didn’t work out as nicely in Crooked House, as the “how” isn’t really much of a mystery – so once I figured out the “who”, I had pretty much solved it all 😦

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      3. For all the praise heaped on this one — and it is very good — the killer does, for my money, stand out a mile and a half. There’s always a question the reader should ask themself in a GAD novel and the answer in this case is “Well…that person!” and, yup, that’s who it is. Brand, by comparison…well, I’ll get into Brand at my place tomorrow.

        I thinnk both a better-hidden killer and a better village mystery can be found in Christie’s own The Moving Finger, which is only not considered as the best Marple story because Aunt Jane herself doesn’t show up until about 85% of the way in. Such a shame, too, because it’s seamlessly constructed and bonkers clever.

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      4. Yes – in particular if you are reading a lot of Carr, Brand, or certain other types of GAD, you’re pretty much trained into this line of thinking. Still, with A Murder is Announced there were enough other options that it took me a while to really be certain about my theory.

        I can’t wait for your Brand review tomorrow – I’m desperately hoping that you were surprised.

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      5. What struck me with A Murder is Announced is how almost amateurish it feels that Christie — in, lest we forget, something like the 50th published crime novel — doesn’t anticipate that more. But, well, I should veer off from this topic lest I end up parked next to the “Spoiler” section…

        As for Fog of Doub, I’ll tell you this much: both was and was not surprised, and you’ll see how and why when you read my thoughts.

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  2. A follow-up with Joan Hickson is definitely in order. I think one of the most moving aspects of this novel is the way it explores the lives of spinsters. I’m happy to say Hinchcliff and Murgatroyd are a lesbian couple, but they don’t have to be. Miss Blacklock and Bunny need each other just as much, even more! So many of the characters in this one suffer from loneliness, to the point where the joining of so many couples at the end feels especially joyous.

    This is definitely one that is as much fun to re-read as you would expect. I personally think After the Funeral has the same quality, so even if you glom into the truth, you can have fun watching it unfold and spotting the clues! I hope you like it!

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    1. Yeah, all the Hickson adaptations are head and shoulders above the McEwan/McKenzie adaptations. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few problems with them as well, but the Hickson episodes are really the Marple benchmark that other adaptations have to be compared with.

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      1. I agree, the Hickson adaptations aren’t perfect but they are surely the best Miss Marple series we have out there and I don’t think there will be another interpretive version of the stories that can top it, especially with the way the adaptations of Christie’s stories are made these days. I haven’t been excited about a Christie film adaptation in quite a long time now so I go back and watch many of the older adaptations like the Poirot series with David Suchet, the Miss Marple series with Hickson (A Murder Is Announced is one I turn to watching a lot), and other adaptations like The Seven Dials Mystery, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and the Tommy & Tuppence series, all from the 80’s.

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  3. A superb book, but I do think it has an emotional kick – the last victim in particular stayed with me. I spotted the guilty party in this one, mainly by noticing the terrific early clue – I wasn’t 100% sure of course but I stuck with it, events seemed to be bearing me out, and it was pleasing to be proved right in the end.
    If you’re in search of another stellar village mystery from Christie than I think Murder is Easy should satisfy.

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      1. Murder is Easy (aka Easy to Kill) is another solid choice. Probably shouldn’t prejudice you, but it’s one, like Crooked House, where the major flaw in an otherwise excellent plot is a generic Romantic Leading Man Detective, rather than a Poirot or Marple. Thankfully, the Romantic Leading Lady is a much better character, and about 10 times as intelligent as the story’s official “detective.” (And like Crooked House, the only appearance of these characters in all Christie). And it also does have my all time favorite Christie weird murder method!!!!

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      2. Just stay away from the McKenzie TV adaptation–a waste of good actors–the story is almost unrecognizable. The older, American version was a lot closer to the book but it had Bill Bixby & Lesley-Anne Down as the romantic leads. Too “American” in general. (I’m American, but prefer my British mysteries to be British!)

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  4. I am really happy that you enjoyed this. I really like it a lot and I think you are right to identify that the presentation of village life and characters are particularly successful.

    I was quite moved by the fate of one character and I think that moment is the reason this book sticks out for me.

    I am not overly enamored of either the Hickson or McEwan productions but I really like the June Whitfield radio production. The casting for the major roles feels quite on point, especially the murderer, and I do think it handles the moment that moved me particularly well.

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  5. Well, everyone else has said how wonderful this is, apart from the blindingly obvious murderer – I solved it when I read it when I was 12 – but don’t overlook Til Death Do Us Part by Carr as best village murder ever.

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  6. Christie wrote several better books than A Murder Is Announced, but I think this was the most fun for me. It was one of my first Christies, and I was completely fooled, even though the murderer is obvious in retrospect. Once I got some experience reading Christie I usually guessed the murderer, but the challenge was to solve rather than guess–even when I guessed the murderer I had fun trying to spot the clues, and usually missed some. I read The Moving Finger later, and knew who the murderer was right away, but still enjoyed it. In After the Funeral I suspected the right person early, but Christie STILL managed to fool me. After the Funeral is to me second-rate Christie with some flat characters, but still brilliant in its misdirection.

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