In this novel Colonel Protheroe, a man despised by nearly all of St. Mary Mead, is found murdered in the vicarage study. There are a number of suspects, but to every one's surprise almost immediately an individual comes to the police and confesses to the murder, weapon in hand... but then not long after another individual claims to have killed the Colonel. Who is the real murderer and what was their motive? For the rest of the story Christie takes the reader down a story path that twists and turns with each new suspect and clue. I expect even the most studious of readers will be mislead a time or two by the red herrings found along the way. In the end, quite surprisingly to all involved, it is one of St. Mary Mead's old maids, Miss Jane Marple, who solves the crime.
Overall I liked The Murder at the Vicarage. As far as a mystery novel it was clever and believable, but as a story it was not a favorite. It seemed to be missing something that I can't put my finger on -- it just wasn't up to par with some of Christie's earlier mysteries. Perhaps Miss Marple has something to do with this opinion...
Up until the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage Agatha Christie had published nine crime novels, five with Hercule Poirot and the four with an assortment of amateur detectives and police officers. The Murder at the Vicarage is told through a narration by the Vicar and so it seems to the reader most likely the Vicar who will solve the crime, perhaps with the aide of Miss Marple a gossipy old neighbor who has strong and generally poor opinions of people. But as I mentioned, it is actually Miss Marple who solves the crime. This shouldn't have come as a surprise since I knew it was a Miss Marple novel, but it did because the story had been so strongly led by the narrator. And then there is Miss Marple as a character. In this debut novel she is decidedly different than later appearances. Apparently as Christie brought Miss Marple back in future books she adapted her character to something more palatable to the reader, still an old maid, but one who is generally liked, extremely clever, but less gossipy. I prefer the later Miss Marple to this earlier one.
As a side note, I found it interesting that out of the 80 crime novels Agatha Christie wrote, only 12 starred Miss Marple, while a whopping 33 had Hercule Poirot as the lead detective. Also, after appearing in The Murder at the Vicarage the reader doesn't meet Miss Marple again for over a decade, when she next appears in The Body In the Library in 1942. Curious.
On a scale of 1 to 5, one being horrible and five being excellent I would rate The Murder at the Vicarage a 3.5. It was good, but not up to par with some of Christie's earlier works. Those looking for a good old "Who-Don'it" may find this an enjoyable, clever and quick read.