“ Author: Agatha Christie / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 24 February 2011 / Genre: Languages / Subcategory: English Language Teaching (ELT): yes / Category: ELT Graded Readers / Publisher: Pearson Education Limited / Title: A Murder is Announced / ISBN 13: 9781408221129 / ISBN 10: 1408221129 / Alternative EAN: 9780007208463 „
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After reviewing the first three Marple novels I decided to do the fourth as well.....
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, which introduced the now famous Hercule Poirot was published in 1920. Her other well known creation, Miss Marple, first appeared in a short story in 1927 before appearing in her first full length novel, "The Murder At The Vicarage" in 1930.
During her lifetime Christie wrote a number of novels, short stories, poetry & plays. Her play "The Mousetrap" holds the world record for the longest run in history as it has been performed since 1952.
Christie is estimated to have sold around 4 billion copies of her collected works, putting her second only to The Bible. She was married twice and was a Dame of the British Empire. She died on January 12th 1976.
Almost everyone in the village of Chipping Cleghorn takes the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette (or the Gazette for short) so plenty of people saw the announcement:-
"A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th at Little Paddocks at 6:30pm. Friends please accept this, the only intimation".
Just before the appointed time a number of neighbours call in at Little Paddocks using various excuses for their presence. Of course they all think it's some sort of game and are not too worried when the lights go out and a man orders them to stick their hands up.
The mood soon changes when gunshots are heard and it later transpires that the owner of Little Paddocks, Letitia Blacklock has narrowly escaped being hit by one of the bullets. Worse still, the man who fired the shot in found dead in the hallway.
The police initially think that the man shot himself but later events prove that not to be the case. Will Miss Marple be able to solve the mystery before anyone else dies?
With another novel set away from St. Mary Mead Agatha Christie was able to create yet another whole another new guest cast of characters for her fourth full length Marple novel. Only Miss Marple and Sir Henry Clithering (who makes a brief appearance) have featured in any of the first three novels.
As with most Christie novels the guest characters are written with varying degrees of depth and characterisation. After being introduced to a gay character, Mr. Pye, in the previous Marple novel The Moving Finger we get treated to a lesbian couple in this book. We're given a crudely drawn picture of Miss Hinchcliffe who is described as having a "manly stance' and a 'short, man-like crop of hair" whilst her partner Miss Murgatroyd is "fat and amiable".
Murgatroyd is all vague and fluttery which I suppose can be sent as an attempt to take the "femme" lesbian stereotype to the extreme whilst Hinch has a more military style of speech and expression which is obviously a means of indicating that she's the "butch" lesbian in the partnership. There's no real attempt to move them beyond one dimensional stereotypes and into fully rounded people.
In contrast Letitia Blacklock and her friend Dora Bunner are much better drawn. Christie gives enough information about their background and the reader sees enough of them interacting with each other and with other characters to get a real sense of what they're actually like as people.
Overall, anyone who has read any other Christie novels and seen the variations in depth of characterisation in those will find nothing out of the ordinary here.
The two previous Miss Marple novels, The Body In The Library and The Moving Finger were both written during the Second World War but, aside from references to Jerry Burton's flying accident in the latter they contain very few references to the sort of effect that the war was having on the civilian population. There are no references to rationing or air raids for example.
A Murder Is Announced is slightly different with defences to rationing, the changes in society that the war has causes, the influx of refugees, the difficulty in getting good domestic staff etc. In a way the mood feels less "cosy" and "sedate" than the previous three novels.
Plotwise there are a number of points that may frustrate the reader. It soon becomes obvious to the police, and of course, to the reader, that the "hold up man" who is named Rudi Scherz, has been shot by someone in the house. Quite how the murderer has managed to move from a darkened room without any source of illumination to kill Scherz without tripping over anything or bumping into anyone is never explained. Nor is where the aforementioned murderer hid the gun with which Scherz was killed.
Then we have more people living under a different identity in Chipping Cleghorn than you can shake a stick at. The police soon discover that Letitia Blacklock is in line to inherit a huge sum of money from her deceased employer Randall Goedler once his ill widow Belle dies. The will states that if Letitia dies before Belle then his money will revert to Pip and Emma, the children of his sister, Sonia. Both of these characters are ultimately proved to be living in Chipping Cleghorn but the reader has practically no chance whatsoever of working out who they are before they're revealed to the police.
Sir Henry Clithering seems to have taken the word "pussy" to his heart to the extent that it gets used more often than Mrs. Slocombe did during an entire season of "Are You Being Served"? especially when the Chief Constable of Middleshire (the county in which Chipping Cleghorn is located) gets in on the act as well.
"Authentic letter from an old Pussy. Staying at the Royal Spa Hotel. Something she thinks that we might like to know in connection with this Chipping Cleghorn business" says the Chief Constable of Middleshire at one point.
Clithering replies:- "The old Pussies. What did I tell you? They hear everything. They see everything. And, unlike the famous adage they speak all evil......"
Later on in the conversation Clithering goes into Pussy Overdrive with his:- "It's my own particular, one and only, four starred Pussy. The super Pussy of all old Pussies....." in his description of Miss Marple.
All I can say is enough with the overuse of the word "pussy". It just makes the whole conversation seems stilted and repetitive and ultimately comes across as rather annoying.
Despite the fact that there some elements of the plot that strain credulity a little, that there are a few too many people living under secret identities in Chipping Cleghorn and that the word "pussy" is perhaps used a little too much this is one of the more entertaining Marple novels and has a number of plus points in it's favour.
The guest characters are an interesting bunch. Aside from the aforementioned lesbian couple Hinch and Murgatroyd, spinster Letitia Blacklock and her schoolfriend Dora Bunner there are a couple of Miss Blacklock young cousins, Patrick and Julia living with her as well. No prizes for guessing that their views on things often contrast with those of the older Miss Blacklock and her friend Dora Bunner. There's also a paying guest, Philippa Haymes who's husband was killed in the war and who has been forced to go out to work to support herself and her young son. This is, I suppose, a reflection on the way that the war changed things for some women in the upper classes. Those with no other means of support were forced to work if their husbands were killed in action.
In earlier Christie novels socialism or any sort of movement to the left of the political spectrum was mainly the province of the lower class characters or the ideological radicals. A Murder Is Announced has Edmund Swettenham reading "The Daily Worker", reflecting perhaps that socialism was a political viewpoint that some of the "right sort of people" subscribed to. This being a murder mystery, there's obviously no major attempt at analysing the sociological changes that the Second World War caused in English society but the feelings and impressions you get of the village of Chipping Cleghorn suggest a world that has changed a lot to the ordered social calm that can be seen in the first three full length Marple novels.
In plot terms, as I mentioned, there are a few minor niggles. However, the central puzzle is entertaining enough and the clues are there for the reader to spot in order for them to solve the mystery before Miss Marple does. If you've failed on that count you'll be kicking yourself once you've read the explanation, wondering just how you managed to miss those vital bits of information that would allow you to "crack the case".
Miss Marple herself appears much more in this book than she did in the previous story, The Moving Finger. She chats to many more of the suspects and plays a much more proactive role in events which makes a nice change after she was underused in the previous book.
Overall this is one of the most enjoyable Miss Marple novels and an improvement on the previous book, The Moving Finger. If you've read other Agatha Christie novels, or indeed other Miss Marple books and haven't tried this one yet then give it a try. You won't be disappointed.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece ed edition (5 Jun 2002)
Miss Marple Ratings (in order of publication):-
01) Murder At The Vicarage (3 Dooyoo stars)
02) The Body In The Libray (3 Dooyoo stars)
03) The Moving Finger (3 Dooyoo stars)
04) A Murder Is Announced (3 Dooyoo stars)
Agatha Christie will always be for me the definitive crime writer, her books reflect a period in time that is now long gone typically circa 1920's /30's but they do span into the 50's/60's. Murder is typified in an almost gentlemanly conduct way that is devoid of the over grucifying that modern writers feel they need to provide. Without a doubt Christies training as a pharmacist during the first world war period plays a pivotal part in all of her books and her ability to lift human characters undoubtedly from here real life and to transcribe them into books.
A Murder is Announced is set in the typical idyllic english village of Chipping Cleghorn where one day the village becomes mucg agog with an announcement in the local paper outling that a murder shall take place at Little Paddocks at 6.30pm on Friday October 29th.
Discussion becomes rife amongst the villagers as to whether this is a practical joke or a hoax with the intention of scaring the lady of the house Letitia Blacklock. Curiosity wins over the local residents and they decide to descend upon the house at the designated time as if almost by accident.
The heating is on, yet its warm, the lights go out and a mysterious character is murdered!!!! What could it all mean? This is Christie at her best - this book is well constructed and has a plot to keep you on your toes.
In "A Murder is Announced" we find ourselves working once more alongside the deceptively mild mannered Miss Jane Marple, a spinster who has had years of living in a small village and thus is fully aware of a miasma of human characteristics. In many ways a female Poirot, in that she has an excellent understanding of human psychology and is able to cross reference behaviours and apply reasoning to solve a wide variety of crimes, she finds herself attempting to discover the identity of a killer behind a rather unusual murder. In the quiet village of Chipping Cleghorn a great deal of the residents are shaken out of their early morning routine when there is an advertisement in the local paper for people to attend a murder at the home of Letitia Blacklock. Realising that it almost certaintly applies to a themed dinner party a handful of people happily attend and are greeted at Little Paddocks, the house, by Letitia, who has risen comfortably to the occasion, despite being unaware of anything before she also read the advertisement. As the evening draws on events take a dramatic turn when the lights are turned off and a strange man appears, shouting at everyone and seemingly part of the act. Yet, in the darkness, a shot is fired and when the lights are switched on it becomes clear that someone meant the murder announcement to be taken literally. The stranger now lies dead, Letitia Blacklock is also injured and everyone is now fearfully aware that the murderer might be one of the party. It falls partly upon Miss Marple, a guest at the spa where the dead man worked, to investigate this intricate case. Pitched against a desperate killer who will stop at virtually nothing to remain undetected this will prove to be one of Miss Marple's more difficult cases.
One of the main strengths of this mystery is the sheer ruthlessness and lightning planning that the murderer employs when committing not just the initial crime, but one other. In both instances the killer has to act instantly and, as with the murders on "Death on the Nile" at least, they act almost impulsively, not thinking or hesitating when the time comes to commit the deeds. Thus we are presented with a strong picture of the sort of character that the murderer is, even before we are aware of their identity. Indeed, from a psychological viewpoint, the killers in "A Murder is Announced" and "Death on the Nile" are very similar and in this case the stories can be compared, though the circumstances are poles apart. There are also very strong parallels between this novel and another of Christie's works, though I am loth to say which one other than that it is a Poirot mystery written in the 1930's, as to do so might indicate the solution.
The characters of within the novel are fairly wide ranging, though similar (and is some cases like Bunch and Julian Harmon also appearing) to more of Christie's writings. The bluff military man, the forthright young man with the radical views, the young people who may or may not have secrets they wish to keep hidden and the no nonsense, brusque middle aged woman can all find their near doppelgangers in different Christie novels. Miss Hinchcliffe's personality, for example, is very similar, on the surface at least, to that of Evelyn Howard in "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Edmund Swettenham reminds us in some ways of Ferguson in "Death on the Nile". It is debatable whether this adds or detracts from the enjoyment of "A Murder is Announced." Certaintly by having such familiar characters we are able to see if Miss Marple's premise that people are the same. However, when too much plot and personalities appear regurgitated from earlier novels, we can yearn for something more original.
Nevertheless, the main story of "A Murder is Announced" is interesting and thought provoking and the situation complicated enough to ensure that the solution is not an easy one. Miss Marple is as sharp as ever, deceived by no one and with a hardened resolve loosely hidden beneath a gentle exterior. We get the impression that at least some of her success lies in the fact that the murderer underestimates her, a possibility which works to Miss Marple's advantage. As she and the police inspectors involved in the case unearth more and more secrets we soon wonder if there is anyone in the narrative without something to conceal. It may be that the whole premise for the novel might best be summarised with the lines:
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive"
and the enjoyment comes from attempting to unravel the threads of the mystery.
A facsimile first edition hardback of the Miss Marple books, published to mark the 75th anniversary of her first appearance and to celebrate her new-found success on television. When The Murder at the Vicarage was published in October 1930, little did the literary world realise that Agatha Christie, already famous for her early Poirot titles, was introducing a character who would become the best-loved female sleuth of all time. The 14 Marple books would appear at intervals over the next 49 years, with Miss Marple's Final Cases published in 1979, three years after Agatha's death. To mark the 75th anniversary of Miss Marple's first appearance, and to celebrate her renewed fortunes as a primetime television star, this collection of facsimile first editions will be the perfect way to enjoy these books in their original form - 12 novels and two short story collections. Reproducing the original typesetting and formats from the first editions from the Christie family's own archive copies, these books sport the original covers which have been painstakingly restored from the best available copies, reflecting five decades of iconic cover design.