If 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.
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…