Colonel Protheroe is shot dead in the vicarage study, which is unfortunate as the vicar recently proclaimed that anyone who killed him would be doing the world a service.
There are two early confessions, made for the best of reasons, but easily proved to be false.
With the aggressive Inspector Slack putting everyone’s backs up, mysterious comings and goings in the local wood, and a number of malicious phone calls, can Miss Marple succeed in her first live investigation?
Whilst Miss Marple had already demonstrated her deductive ability in solving the first twelve of “The Thirteen Problems” (only published in book form after this novel and so will be reviewed later this month) those were cosy fireside chats with friends – here she has a ringside seat in a case involving her friends and acquaintances.
For some reason, this didn’t make much impression on me when I first read it, apart from the identity of the killer, and although the solution is clever, it still doesn’t excite me like I feel it should. Perhaps it didn’t excite Christie too much as Miss Marple didn’t get a second novel for another twelve years.
Recurring character development
Miss Jane Marple
Is “the worst cat in the village and she always knows every single thing that happens – and draws the worst inferences from it” but “has, at least, a sense of humour”.
Is “a white haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner”.
Whilst Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush, Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.
Lives, conveniently, next door to the vicarage and to Dr Haydock.
Makes cherry brandy using her grandmother’s recipe.
Watches birds using field glasses.
Makes Japanese rock gardens.
Has a maid called Emily.
Her hobby “is – and always has been – Human Nature”.
Has read a lot of American detective stories in the hope that they might give her a pointer.
Is “a dark man, restless and energetic in manner, with black eyes that snap ceaselessly”.
Has “a rude and overbearing manner”.
A novelist and poet and nephew of Miss Marple.
An “exquisite young man who prides himself on his poise and air of general detachment”.
Signs of the Times
Griselda wishes that the vicar would embezzle the SPG funds. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was a Church of England missionary organisation founded in 1701. It has undergone a number of name changes and from 2016 has been called United Society Partners in the Gospel.
Griselda has been reading “The Stain on the Stairs”, a fictional title, which was later used for the title of a book written by J. B. Fletcher in the TV series “Murder, She Wrote”.
There is old silver at the Old Hall, including trencher salts and a Charles II tazza. The former are salt cellars to go at each place setting; the latter a wide, shallow dish mounted on a stem or foot.
Miss Cram came to offer to help with the Guides. The Girl Guides were formed in 1910 by Agnes Baden-Powell, following the succes of the Boy Scouts formed by her brother, Robert.
Dr Haydock believes that there may be no such thing as right and wrong and that it could be down to glandular secretions; thus capital punishment is inherently wrong and medical treatment would be more appropriate than punishment. I don’t know how prevalent such ideas were at the time, but it is an ongoing question – how much of criminal behaviour is influenced by nature and/or nurture and to what degree are individuals responsible for their actions.
Reference is made obliquely to one of G. K. Chesterton’s most famous Father Brown stories.
References to previous works
St Mary Mead was the original home of Katherine Grey in The Mystery of the Blue Train. In that book the local doctor is Harris, but here it is Haydock, who does not seem to be a newcomer. The attitude of the vicar’s wife also does not match that of Griselda, and again the Clements do not seem to be newcomers.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Set in St Mary Mead this fulfils “Where – set in a small village”.