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Murder at the Vicarage

Hillary's rating:

The English village of St. Mary Mead is shocked and worried when one of its leading citizen’s, Colonel Protheroe is found murdered in the study of the vicarage.

The story starts when the Vicar discovers Protheroe’s wife, Anne, and Lawrence Redding in a torrid embrace. Lawrence speaks with the Vicar and agrees that he must break off the affair for Anne’s sake. That same evening, the Vicar is returning home and meets Lawrence at the door. He’s agitated, and exclaims, "You want to see Protheroe? You’ll see him all right!" The Vicar goes into his study to find Protheroe has been shot in the back of the head. Within 24 hours, both Lawrence and Anne confess to the murder.

Here’s where Miss Marple gets involved. At her suggestion, the police tell Lawrence and Anne that neither of them are suspected, and the two lovers finally tell the truth—they each thought the other might be guilty and were covering. But if Lawrence and Anne aren’t guilty, who is? Miss Marple has seven suspects (but she won’t say who those seven are until the end of the book ...).

This small village is bubbling and seething with subplots. Why, when Mrs. Price-Ridley put a pound note in the collection plate, was the largest sum listed only 15 shillings? Who is the mysterious Mrs. Lestrange, and why did she meet with Protheroe while Anne Protheroe was out of the house? Why was the clock in the vicarage study set to the wrong time? Who made the false phone call to the Vicar that lured him away from the vicarage the night Protheroe was killed? Why did Protheroe and Dr. Stone, a visiting archaeologist, have an angry confrontation a few days before the murder? Where was Protheroe’s daughter Lettice at the time of the murder?

Only Miss Marple is able to put all the pieces where they belong and solve this baffling mystery!

Spoilers ahead! Scroll down for full spoilers of this book.



"One sees so much evil in a village," Miss Marple likes to say. Man, is she right! Before the mystery of who killed Colonel Protheroe can be solved, many other crimes and secrets must be exposed:

The people who murdered Colonel Protheroe, though, were Lawrence Redding and Anne Protheroe. Lawrence left a gun with a silencer in a standing plant by the window of the vicarage study. Anne made a false call to the Vicar, asking him to visit an ailing parishioner—thus getting rid of the Vicar for a couple of hours.

Then, when Anne was coming past the vicarage to Lawrence’s cottage, she leaned in the window, picked up the gun, and shot her husband. Then she dropped the gun back in the plant and went on down to the cottage. Afterward, witnesses would say they saw Anne peek into the study for a second and then move on—surely not enough time to do a murder!

Later Lawrence set up an explosion in the woods to sound like a "shot." He made sure he was in the study before the Vicar, so he could pocket the gun and silencer and adjust the clock in the room to confuse the time of death. Then he met the Vicar at the door, acting the part of someone shocked, worried, and reckless.

The pair may have gotten away with their crime, except that they tried to pin the murder on the hapless Hawes. This ploy confirmed Miss Marple’s theories and gave her an opening for setting a trap for the killers.


My Thoughts About This Book

I think this is a pretty good mystery, partially because there are so many side-issues, which contribute to the mysteriousness of the mystery—without Dr. Stone, Hawes, Mrs. Lestrange, and the hilarious machinations of the "village pussies," the murderers might have been easier to spot. But we’re mislead by red herrings or unrelated crimes, to the point that we aren’t sure what’s what.

Miss Marple is less irritating in this novel, probably because she’s one of the four old ladies in the village (Miss Wetherby, Miss Hartnell, and Mrs. Price-Ridley are the other three) who are butting in and offering solutions. Toward the end of the book, when the Vicar receives four missives, each delivered by hand, each of which say "Important" or some variation thereof, from each of the four pussies—it’s completely hilarious!

Overall, I think there are a few clues, but not too many. It might be hard to come up with the solution, except through guessing. But the story and characters are well-written and interesting!

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