Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (1930)

The ninth Agatha Christie, and by far my favorite of the  Christies I've read so far.  Miss Marple has always been my favorite detective.  In a Marple story, I love the plots and characters, and the dialogue is crisp and witty.  The mystery is always, always top notch. A friend commented to me that "Agatha cheats" - but so what?  Reading a really good Agatha Christie is only half about trying to solve the mystery; the best Agathas are a delight to read.  They make you laugh, and her writing, when it's good, it's very, very good.  I don't think a Christie ever made me cry though.

Connie Willis, one of my favorite modern writers, now makes more sense.  If you read up on Connie Willis, you know how much she loves Agatha Christie.  Vicarage is the first time reading chronological Christie that I've seen direct parallels between the two writers. I still think Willis is a better writer, but there are shades of Agatha's dialogue and plotting throughout Willis.  Also, Willis can create memorble and vivid characters, and I feel like Agatha does the same thing.  Miss Marple of course - but in Vicarage everyone comes alive.  I think now they may be considered stock, but I'm not so sure if Agatha didn't invent these stock characters.  And even then, I didn't feel like any character in the book felt like stock.  The vicar and his young wife, their nephew, their bad maids, the gossipy old women.  Only the suspects felt like stock, really - the wife and her lover, the grumpy old husband, the greedy daughter, etc.  Gosford Park , a favorite movie of mine, made use of these characters too.

The book felt delightfully modern too, the first one that really stood the test of time.  Tommy and Tuppence make good period pieces; Hercule Poirot is just himself; he stands outside of time, but some of what he says and does can feel dated.  Miss Marple and company, they didn't feel dated.  Slice of time, yes,  But the language felt like now (and also like Maugham).  There wasn't any slang that I had to look up.  In fact, I only really looked up one word - someone referred to Griselda as a "Grueze" which I had to wikipedia (it means she's very beautiful, like a painting by a French artist Grueze).

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Miss Marple's first case, and it's delightful -- a trifle of a murder mystery, all fluffy and delicious and fruity and wonderfully fun.  Dame Agatha is at her very best here (though each Marple mystery is  a delicious treat); the writing is especially crisp, with dialogue that's witty banter at it's very best.  The characters have a gloss of stock, but Christie deft writing style blesses each and every one:  a dash of cayenne, with Miss Marple the most peppery of all.  I was reminded of W. Somerset Maugham
and (of course) Connie Willis.  It's (almost) a thoroughly modern murder mystery.  Many writers of mysteries come close to the great dame, but when she's at her very best, none surpass her.  


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