“The Murder at the Vicarage” by Agatha Christie was first published in October, 1930. This is the first full-length adventure featuring Miss Jane Marple, the endearing old village woman with a knack for finding the truth about people by comparisons. Set-in the small village of St Mary Mead, the story has all the ingredients of an interesting crime thriller: an old, despised man with a pretty young wife, a handsome young lover of the wife, an unhappy daughter by first marriage, and a mysterious new arrival in the village who is none other than his first wife.
Colonel Protheroe is found shot dead one evening in the vicarage by the vicar Leonard Clement. Though Colonel Protheroe is wished dead by someone or other every day, his death baffles the police and the self-proclaimed sleuths including the vicar himself, his nephew Dennis and Miss Marple. The prime suspects for the murder are Mrs. Anne Protheroe and her lover Lawrence Redding. Lawrence surrenders himself to the police with a pistol used for murder and the case appears to be a very straight one. However, Anne Protheore also declares that she committed the murder. The primary hurdle faced by the police is that both of them appear to have a strong alibi at the time of murder (as determined by Dr Haydock) and hence, are released by the police.
The mystery is deepened as no shot was heard by anyone in the vicinity at the time of murder; however most of them heard a shot after the time of murder. Besides, there is a note supposedly written just before the murder and an overturned clock to make things more confusing about the time of murder. The solution to the murder mystery does not appear to be straight forward as one after another new clues are found, sometimes useful and sometimes misleading.
Being an unpopular man, Colonel Protheroe had given number of persons a reason to hold a grudge against him. And as Miss Marple declares at one point of time, she could name at least seven suspects who could have committed the murder. In addition to Anne and Lawrence, persons seen in the vicinity of vicarage on the evening of murder include an archaeologist Dr Stone, his young and attractive secretary Miss Cram, the Colonel’s ex-wife Mrs Lestrange and his daughter Lattice.
Instead of reaching to the solution, Clement finds himself more and more confused as he proceeds with the investigation to find out that Dr Stone is an impostor, that his assistant Hawes is subjected to a mental illness, that his nephew Denis would have done anything to make Lattice happy, that his wife had lied to him about her time of coming back from London on the evening of the murder, that somebody has viciously damaged a portrait in Colonel Protheroe’s house, etc. He also discovers some odd articles in the bushes near the vicarage. To make matters worse, he starts getting anonymous notes about an affair between his wife Griselda and Lawrence.
Finally, when everyone thinks that the mystery is solved and the murderer has supposedly committed a suicide after confessing his crime in a note, it is Miss Marple who comes up with the correct solution; as amazing and as simple as always. A must read for all lovers of old-fashioned crime novels where mind gets more exercise than the body in solving the mystery….