I grew up on Christie. At the time, I was limited to whatever my local library branch physically had on the shelves, so it took awhile to work my way through her bibliography, and even now, I’m not sure I’ve read all of her books. There was that pesky problem of British and American editions with separate titles, leaving me hopelessly confused about what I’ve read. Thankfully, A Murder is Announced had the same title in both editions, which might be why I remember it so well. It might also be because it is an amazingly well written with a nicely tricky mystery.
Oh, Letty! A murder has been announced in the personals section of the local gazette. You kids may not know this, but that’s like Craigslist in print form. And game murder mysteries were old-fashioned acted-out parties where guests solved the mystery. That’s why the residents of the village of Chipping Cleghorn assume they are being invited. Nonetheless, a newspaper invite bit informal, so they contrive excuses to drop by Letitia Blacklock’s home. As they’re settled in, having a smoke and a sherry, a masked man holds them up. The lights go out. Shots echo in the dark room. When someone flips a light, the unknown masked intruder is dead. The police are prone to write it off as a burglary gone bad, except Inspector Craddock can’t quite let it go. His godfather points him in the direction of the little old ladies of the case, citing his own Miss Marple as an example. Before long, we meet her in person.
Christie is in peak form here, displaying skill in every aspect of writing, balanced with atmosphere, character, mystery and philosophy, with not an excess word present. Oh sure, had Christie Sandersonized it, it could have been far beyond it’s 300 pages, filled with details about the village foliage or the design of their dresses . Except those details are there, and rarely does she ‘tell’ us; we discover it in clever word choice or implicit in dialogue. This may be why A Murder is Announced is one of her better mysteries; though she provides a number of clues and red herrings, her details are so sparse that careful reading is needed. Come to think of it, Sanderson presents a symphony in a book, while Christie is the soloist, the violin virtuoso, each note given star attention.
Clues are dropped. I wish I could give an opinion on the mystery, but the truth is, I’ve read this enough times that I remembered the solution, just not the reasoning. Still, astute minds in the Goodreads Agatha Christie Lovers group pointed out Dame Agatha was dropping subtle clues from the beginning, along with plenty of red herrings.
Characterization is amazing. Scant descriptors, and yet every utterance hints at character. Check this brief oratory by an elderly gardener when being questioned:
“‘I’ve no idea,’ said Craddock. ‘I suppose this hold-up caused a lot of talk?’
“That it did. What’s us coming to? That’s what Ned Barker said. Comes of going to the pictures so much, he said. But Tom Riley, he says it comes of letting these furriners run about loose. And depend on it, he says, that girl that cooks up there for Miss Blacklock and ‘as such a nasty temper–she’s in it, he said. She’s a Communist or worse, he says, and we don’t like that sort ‘ere.’”
All he does is talk, and with every sentence, Christie gives us the picture of the small town, the gossip, the dynamic between the young and the old, the long-time residents and the foreigners–or furriners, as he says. And so much about the man himself–what he chooses to share with police, his education, his speech pattern, his peer group. Clever, clever.
The sly humor is a nice touch for an adult read–I’m not sure I picked up on it when I was younger.
“‘And it isn’t,’ pursued Mrs. Swettenham, ‘as though you were a worker. You don’t do any work at all.’
‘That’s not in the least true,’ said Edmund indignantly. ‘I’m writing a book.’
‘I meant real work,’ said Mrs. Swettenham.”
But I have no doubt that it was a great deal of work indeed, to craft a book that provides excellent entertainment, and yet such insight into the residents of a small English town. An enjoyable trip down memory lane that gives me all new appreciation for her skill.