Notes On The Murder At the Vicarage

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication: 1930

Motive of Murder: Wealth

Plot:

When Colonel Lucius Protheroe is shot in the head at the Vicar’s study, there are seven people at St. Mary’s Mead who have motives to kill him according to Jane Marple.  Living next to the vicarage, she hardly misses anything while attending her garden.

The murder awakes the litle village; shortly afterwards Lawrence Redding confesses to the police for the murder, followed by Anne Protheroe, the deceased’s widow. Be that as it may, their movements on the day of the murder render both statements at fault. And therefore they are cleared, their having alibis.

The night before the Colonel receives Mrs. Lestrange at his home. Renting a house in the village, her mysterious presence arouses her neighbours’ great curiousity. Rumour has it that she might have come to blackmail him and also has an affair with the village’s doctor.

Meanwhile, an anonymous note arrives for Reverend Leonard Clement; in which the sender warns him about his young and attractive wife’s whereabouts near the time of the murder.

Men and women’s fashion in the thirties. Imagine the dazzling Lawrence Redding in suit and Mrs. Protheroe next to him in black.

Highlights:

In the first case of Miss Marple an Anglican priest is used as a narrator. He is an unreliable voice whose character resembles the self-deprecating Arthur Hastings.  Yet he is not Father Brown altho

In the first case of Miss Marple ugh he is far from dull. His weaknesses – if they are called ‘weaknesses’- are his wife Griselda and his shying not from voicing his views about others. What’s more, saying it out loud without realising it.

Take the example in the first page. It opens with his saying“…I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most becoming to my cloth, that any one who murdered Colonel Protheroe [the churchwarden] would be doing the world at large a service”. To which Dennis, his fifteen-year-old nephew, responds: “that’ll be remembered against you when the old boy is found bathed in blood…” His uncle would remember it well, for twenty-four hours afterwards he would find the colonel in a pool of blood from his head at the vicar’s desk.

Eaerlier at the tea in the vicarage he is hopeless at moulding Griselda to appear as a proper vicar’s wife. Her vivacity raises eyebrows among the women whom attend the tea – including the Clements’ next-door neighbour Miss Marple. But Griselda being Griselda takes little notice of the gossipers. She consoles her shocked husband in the aftermath of the murder saying: “nobody would suspect you of anything, darling. You’re so transparently above suspicion that really it would be a marvellous opportunity. I wish you’d embezzle the S.P.G. funds…”

Despite his being unreliable, it is his vulnerability and his devotion to his wife that make him an intriguing protagonist. In him Christie conjures up a refined role of a priest by showing the depth of his faith and his dedication to his work, summing up the profession as not merely a matter of preparing sermons and saying prayers to the dying.

As the Clements and the spinster join forces to assist the investigation, their relationship grow. In the process the reverend gets more confident and takes charge of more things while Griselda draws closer to Miss Marple. Halfway he warms up to the sleuth, too and admits: “Miss Marple sees everything. Gardening is as good as a smoke screen, and the habit of observing birds through powerful glasses can always be turned to account”.

The sub-plots work wonderfully for readers who hasn’t kept a watchful eye (or skipped towards the end – ehm, like me). The discovery of a brown suitcase in the wood and a strange call to Mrs. Pridley are among the false alarms Christie has put in place. I find them rather amusing and for all their worth they also teach me a thing or two to pace a story ala Christie’s.

Nonetheless it fascinates me as to why there seems to be no attempt made to kill Miss Marple. It does bother me because: first, she notices the absence of Mrs. Protheroe’s handbag on the day of the murder. The woman stops to talk to her –yes, the sleuth is in the garden as usual- on her way to meet her husband at the vicarage. What’s more, Miss Marple insists the significance of the fact to Inspector Slack whom hardly understands the fact that it’s quite unusual to see a woman without her handbag. Next, she tells the vicar and the inspector that the suicide note found near the deceased “seems wrong to her”. Plus, Mrs. Protheroe already says that the handwriting in the note does not sound like his late husband’s. Third, it occurs not to the police to test Lawrence Redding’s handwriting when he comes up to confess. Fourth, Miss Marple hears the shot from the wood at half-past six, just as the Vicar, his housemaid and Mrs. Protheroe herself.

The adaptation of the book in a television series (2004) starring (from the left): Rachael Stirling (Griselda Clement), Tim McInnerny(Rev. Clement), Jason Flemyng (Lawrence Redding) and Geraldine McEwan (Jane Marple).

Thus it should have been obvious that Miss Marple is “a kind of noticing person” that must be silenced. And that’s my trouble with the story plot. Had Christie attempted a murder to her heroine, it would have looked more convincing. More importantly, I suppose many of the murderers in her stories are calculating and cunning. And the colonel’s death is not an exception; it is a result of a good timing; Inspector Slack points out that the murder plan is detailed to the minute.

On the other hand, no attempted murder to the sleuth is plausible due to two reasons: first, she is not seen as a treat; being perceived as not much different to other three other spinsters in the village. Second, Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew, is present; he stays with her for a few days after the inquest. It might have deterred the killers, although his being there other than as a famous author with his clever books adds little value. Yes, he identifies an impostor trying to steal valuable artefacts, but no he does not catch whodunit.

On the whole, The Murder At The Vicarage is a cross between a thriller and a crime novel, which is highly recommended for a character study, a sense of humour and brilliant dialogues throughout.

The Twists:

-The clock at the vicar’s study is fifteen minutes forward

-Mrs. Price Ridley receives a strange telephone call at 6.30 pm coming from Lawrence Redding’s cottage

-The note left near Colonel Protheroe’s body, highlighting it is written at 6.22 pm.

-The shot Miss Marple and Mary heard coming from the wood at half-past six

– Colonel Protheroe is slightly deaf

-Mrs. Lestrange is not at home near to six o’clock according to Miss Hartnell

-A telephone call to the Vicarage by a mysterious caller saying “I want to confess. My God, I want to confess.”

-the discovery of a note in Mr. Hawes’s pocket which resembles the handwriting of the note found near the dead Colonel.

-Lawrence Redding brings the wrong stone for Miss Marple’s Garden

Cast of Characters:

Anne Protheroe (Colonel Protheroe’s second wife, Lettice’s stepmother)

Dennis Clement (the vicar’s nephew)

Gladys Cram (the secretary to Dr. Stone, an archaeologist)

Griselda Clement (the Vicaress)

Miss Hartnell

Mr. Hawes (the curate)

Dr. Haydock (the doctor’s village)

Jane Marple

Lawrence Redding (a painter)

Mrs. Lestrange (the mysterious woman who rents a house at the back of the vicarage)

Lettice Protheroe (Colonel Protheroe’s daughter)

Colonel Lucius Protheroe (the churchwarden, the magistrates, who lives in Old Hall)

Mary Adams (the Vicar’s housemaid)

Colonel Melchett (the Chief Constable)

Mrs. Price Ridley (lives next to the Vicarage)

Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew, a writer)

Rose (a maid at Old Hall, Colonel Protheroe’s house)

Inspector Slack (the local police)

Dr. Stone (an archaeologist who digs at Colonel Protheroe’s land)

Miss Wetherby (lives next to Miss Hartnell)

The Most Fascinating Character: Griselda Clement (the Vicaress)

‘I know that I am very often rather foolish and don’t take things as I should, but I really do not see your point.’

Griselfa Clement is painted by Lawrence Redding in her coat. The above image suggests what might she wears according to the thirties’ fashion.

She says it to her husband while they are discussing the confession of Lawrence Redding; Miss Marple is present at that time.

Nearly twenty years her husband’s junior, she is pretty and carefree. Calling herself “a shocking housekeeper”, her husband describes her as “incompetent in every way, and extremely trying to live with. She treats the parish as a kind of huge joke arranged for her amusement”.

Her being my choice is because I grow to love Griselda.  Her spirit and her wittiness intrigue me most. Moreover, her point of views are unique and “refreshing” at times.

My duty. My duty as the Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four-thirty.

Furthermore, the Vicar initially simply regards her ” a child” due to her careless remarks. Deep inside it is actually his self-criticism of having been unable to keep up with her zealousness. In spite of her seemingly childishness, there is a very sharp mind of Griselda’s that may astonish readers at times. More importantly, her perceptiveness  helps  Miss Marple without the other knowing it. In fact, the elderly listens to her. For both have the same indomitable spirit and courage although they are expressed in different ways.

The following is my most favourite dialogue between the husband and wife:

Griselda: ‘Do you realise, Len, that I might have married a Cabinet Minister, a Baronet, a rich Company Promoter, three subalterns and a ne’er –do-weel with attractive manners, and that I instead I chose you?Didn’t it astonish you very much?

Rev. Len Clement: At the time it did. I have often wondered why you did it.’

G:It made me so powerful.The others thought me simply wonderful and of course it would have been very nice of them to have me. But I’m everything you most dislike and disapprove of, and yet you couldn’t withstand me!My vanity couldn’t hold out against that. It’s so much nicer to a secret and delightful sin to anybody than to be feather in their cap…’

Be that as it may, she dislikes Miss Marple at the beginning. ‘She is the worst cat in the village,’ Griselda said. Nevertheless, no sooner has she realised the meaning of Miss Marple’s look during the tea at the vicarage she then understands that the spinster is not to be undermined. Unbeknown to the Vicar, Griselda has a secret. Something only her own sex understand its nature – not a husband. It is the turning point of them as Griselda begins to appreciate Miss Marple’s discreetness.  Besides, there is another secret of hers Miss Marple happens to know.

To sum up, Griselda is the life and soul of the party. I think she is also rather a dear, too.

Clues:

Griselda Clement:

[to her husband]

‘You’re wrong, Len. Lawrence [Redding] knew about that clock being fast. “Keeping the vicar up to time!” he used to say. Lawrence would never have made the mistake of putting it back at 6.22. He’d have put the hands somewhere possible – like a quarter to seven.’

Jane Marple [to everyone at tea in the vicarage on a Wednesday]

‘Mr. Hawes looked worried. I hope he hasn’t been working too hard.’

[to Mr. and Mrs. Clement]

‘It seems to me that if a young man had made up his mind to the great wickedness of taking a fellow creature’s life, he would not appear distraught about it afterwards. It would be premeditated and cold-blooded action and though the murderer might be a little flurried and possibly might make some small mistake, I do not think it likely he would fall into a state of agitation such as you [Mr. Clement] describe. It is difficult to put oneself in such position, but I cannot imagine getting into a state like that myself.’

Lawrence Redding:

[to the Vicar and Miss MArple]

‘I must ask Anne [Protheroe]. She may remember. By the way, there seems to me to be one cuious fact that needs explanation. Mrs. Lestrange, the Mystery Lady of St. Mary Mead, paid a visit to old Protheroe after dinner on Wednesday night. And nobody seems to have any idea what it was all about. Old Protheroe said nothing ti either his wife or Lettice.’

Mrs. Price Ridley:

[to the Vicar}

‘She [her maid, Clara] heard a sneeze on the day of the murder at a time when there was no one in your house. Doubtless the murderer was concealed in the bushes waiting his opportunity. What you have to look for is a man with a cold in his head.’

Inspector Slack:

[to the Vicar]

‘Mr. Redding had nothing to do with it [the call put through that comes from Old Hall]. At that time, 6.30, he was on his way to the Blue Boar with Dr. Stone in full view of the village. But there it is. Suggestive, eh? Someone  walked into that empty cottage and used the telephone, who was it? That’s two queer telephone calls in one day. Makes you think there’s some connection between them. I’ll eat my hat if they weren’t both put through by the same person.’

Miss Wetherby:

[to the Vicar]

‘A certain lady, and where do you think this certain lady was going? She turned into the Vicarage road, but before she did so, she looked up and down the road in a most peculiar way- to see if any one she knew were noticing her, I imagine.’

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