Book of 1950: A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie


published 1950



Murder is Announced


[Inspector Craddock is interviewing everyone who attended a fatal social event. Philippa is a landgirl]

He turned away and the [gardener] called after him grudgingly:

'Maybe you'd find her in the apple orchard. She's younger than I am for getting the apples down.'

And sure enough in the apple orchard Craddock found Phillipa Haymes. His first view was a pair of nice legs encased in breeches sliding easily down the trunk of a tree. Then Phillipa, her face flushed, her fair hair ruffled by the branches, stood looking at him in a startled fashion.

'Make a good Rosalind,' Craddock thought automatically, for Detective-Inspector Craddock was a Shakespeare enthusiast and had played the part of the melancholy Jaques with great success in a performance of As You Like it for the Police Orphanage.

A moment later he amended his views. Phillipa Haymes was too wooden for Rosalind, her fairness and her impassivity were intensely English, but English of the twentieth rather than of the sixteenth century. Well-bred, unemotional English, without a spark of mischief.

'Good morning, Mrs Haymes. I'm sorry if I startled you. I'm Detective-Inspector Craddock of the Middleshire Police. I wanted to have a word with you.'

'About last night?'
'Yes.'

'Will it take long? Shall we - ?'

She looked about her rather doubtfully.

Craddock indicated a fallen tree trunk.

'Rather informal,' he said pleasantly, 'but I don't want to interrupt your work longer than necessary.'

 
 
commentary: This is my book of 1950 for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme over at the Past Offences blog. He chose this book too, but I will resist reading his review till after I’ve written mine.

A Murder is Announced is the one with the great setup, and the great opening. The local paper is delivered to the whole village of Chipping Cleghorn (goodness Christie did good place names, when she wasn’t being careless about them) on Friday mornings, and this time it contains a most unlikely classified ad:
A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation.
But that’s today! We are introduced to all the important people of the village as they read this and decide what to do. Well, obviously, with a murderer on the loose, you turn up at the place where violent death is promised, right?

So they do. As they are all sitting there uncomfortably – the host family claim to know nothing of the advertised event – the lights go out, and when they go back on again, someone is dead.

I think this is a favourite Christie for many people. It is beautifully worked out and structured, with a whole host of interesting characters. Some of them seem like stereotypes, but then you can never be sure with Christie. And of course it is a ludicrous plot – talking about Body in the Library recently I said this:
Fictional murders are almost always crazy in this sense: however they pan out, would anyone actually sit down and plan to commit a murder in that way? – why wouldn’t they just find a quiet moment and hit the victim in an alley? Of course we as readers want the details that make the books such fun – the overheard conversations, the blackmailers who know something, the phonecalls with the speaker saying ‘I will tell you something important when I see you – oh the doorbell is ringing’. So I don’t really mind those elaborate plots – but for Christie surely The Body in the Library takes some kind of prize for bizarre planning. Who in their right minds could possibly plan a murder that way? It is completely unworkable, and ridiculous, and would actually have gone wrong in several different ways.  

Great book though.
And I think every word of that applies equally to A Murder is Announced. I also love Robert Barnard’s description in his indispensable book on Christie, A Talent to Deceive, where he pokes fun at the fact that there is an unlikely amount of impersonation going on in this tiny village.

But none of that spoils it. The murder is ridiculous, but the social observations - always one of my favourite aspects of Christie, an interest I share with blogfriend Lucy Fisher – are spot on. People think she’s writing about a ‘cosy’ village, but her point in this one is that WW2 has shaken everything up, nothing is as it was, and nothing is as it seems – for example, these law-abiding people are all prepared to operate on the black market.

In this entry on Christie I wrote about her use of clothes – the trousers in this book mark a new stage in their acceptability as garments for women. And, even more surprisingly, there is a very sympathetically portrayed gay couple, even if they are rather stereotyped in their appearances – one has a mannish haircut and wears the trousers, the other is fluffy and wears a tweed skirt.

I love pictures of landgirls – there are many wonderful ones at the Imperial War Museum (a frequent resource for me, most recently for my homefront photos for the Rainbow Corner entry last week). The one above shows Doreen Bacchus in Suffolk in the 1940s.

My all-time favourite is this one, which I have used several times:

Murder is announced 2

























Comments

  1. Yes, what a great set-up. One of my favourites. Yes, plenty of suspension of disbelief is necessary, but it is all part of the game played with the reader, and I love it. Agree about the social observation, and I always enjoy the sly humour, too.

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    1. yes, such a good one so long as you can get over the initial unlikelihood. And you can read it again, knowing the solution, and just be really impressed by how carefully and cleverly it is done. A classic.

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  2. Moira I just finishing it and planning to post my review any time soon, fortunately on time for Rich's roundup. Will save your review to read it after I finish mine.

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    1. Great, Jose Ignacio, look forward to reading your post. I was avoiding Rich's post on it for the same reason!

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  3. This one definitely has a fabulous setup, Moira. It draws you right in. And even though there's a lot that you need to overlook, Christie does such a good job with the interactions among the people, the social conventions, and her commentary on society. I like it very much despite its imperfections.

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    1. Why am I not surprised you are another fan Margot? What an enjoyable book it is.

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  4. A favorite of mine, also liked the latest filmed version of it.

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    1. oh yes, totally agree, I rewatched it after reading, and it is a really good adaptation. What a cast!

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  5. It's interesting that it's really clear that Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd are a gay couple even though Christie never SAYS anything. But it's useful to the plot that she doesn't, of course, considering the amount of impersonation that is going on in this tiny village.
    Add me to the list of your blogfriends who find the social history aspects of Golden Age detection so fascinating. I'm starting to think that social history is the most important part of the detective genre, instead of the traditional Symonsian "order is broken and then restored" high-level analysis.

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    1. Yes, dealing with the gay couple is very interestingly done. You couldn't really be in any doubt.
      That's a really good clear way of putting it about the social history - I too think it's vital. Because if you're going to have unlikely plot developments, you need the basic background to be accurate, to reassure your readers. At least, that's my version of how Christie thought about it.

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  6. Christie makes the point that you don't know who people are any more. No more letters of introduction, no more "Oh, you mean the Yorkshire Twiddledos!".

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    1. ... and anyone can say they are anyone - who is to check? AT least nowadays we'd have Google and Facebook.

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  7. I love the way that the clues are provided in an almost throwaway manner - it's easy to dismiss one of them as a typo if you're not paying attention. In this book Christie combines a good story, strong characterisation and a solution which I still enjoy even though I've read it hundreds of times. It must surely appear in most people's Christie top five.

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    1. I absolutely agree, such a strong, carefully-worked out story, and such fun to read. Definitely top 5.

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  8. I am one of those that has always considered it among the best of the Marple books but I really want to re-read it now - thanks Moira (and belatedly, happy new year).

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    1. WElcome home Sergio, nice to see you again. And yes, it's a goodie.

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  9. It's one of my favourites too. I love the Joan Hickson adaptation too, must watch it again.

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    1. I haven't seen the Hickson version in years - it would be good to see it to compare.

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  10. This is the next Miss Marple that I will read. Does she take much part in this one? It sounds very good, from your description and the extract.

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    1. I think you will enjoy this one Tracy, and Miss Marple plays a very big part.

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  11. Moira, your comments about the unlikelihood of these murder plots is inspiring me to consider a piece about this very thing! This is why Raymond Chandler was such a twit about GAD books . . . he hated the fantastical aspect of these murder plots and "cardboard" characters. I think it would be fun to write about and/or discuss some of the most outrageous ones together: lay out the spoilers with fair warning and then just go for it - how reasonable is it that this murderer came up with THIS plot! It could be great fun! :)

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    1. That's a great idea Brad, please do it!

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