Murder at the Vicarage – 4/5
This novel is the very first Miss Marple novel. What I liked about this one is the same kind of thing I liked about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where Miss Marple is the detective and means through which the mystery is solved but she’s not the narrator and not even really much of the focus of the novel at all.
In this novel the case is the murder of the local ranking military official murdered in a study in the vicarage, shot through the head, and immediately two different people confess. Miss Marple is simply a local woman, who much to the consternation of the vicar narrator meddles a little too much because she’s always out there observing.
Not only is the first Miss Marple mystery, but it’s the first one I’ve ever read as well. It’s not entirely the kind of puzzle box as say And Then There Were None nor is the kind of almost objective presentation of evidence and investigation such as a number of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. Instead, this is a host of different personalities and characters. It reminds me a lot of the Jessica Fletcher mysteries where there’s always not only a whole mystery going on in the background, but specifically there’s a whole little drama going on. There’s affairs, there’s gossip, there’s drama, and so forth.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles – 4/5
This one was packaged together with the audiobook version of Murder at the Vicarage as far as I can tell as a “Look the first Miss Marple and the first Poirot!” The Miss Marple audio quality was pretty bad and I almost immediately turned it off. This one was much much better and was read by Hugh Fraser, who many will recognize from the BBC specials. As I said, this is the first Poirot and as such it’s interesting to see how he’s introduced into the story. For one, the house where the Belgians live is a hilariously ridiculous concept to me, but that he’s a retied police inspector and kind of on holiday isn’t so much.
I can also tell you that I am a better detective than the narrator of this novel, who is not Poirot.
Some of the deductions and premises used in this novel are absolutely ridiculous. “HMMMM! She couldn’t have committed suicide! She was very happy!” Well, then!
Also, there’s some real assumption predicated upon in terms of gender assumptions and who can do what to whom and when kinds of things. There’s also the funny and absurd misunderstandings about legal procedures that happen in both British and American detective stories. That said, this one works too because Poirot is merely observed, he outclasses those around him, and since he’s not the narrator and he’s not the lead character by any stretch his workings in the background of the story are so much funnier and more effective in how they’re handled and presented. Like Miss Marple having Poirot be a kind of tottering but effective and annoying presence in the back of every thing despite being clearly more talented and competent is generally a workable trope. So also having him, like in Sherlock Holmes, outshine and the outmatch not just the professionals, but also the narrator is also a good way to take the narrative weight off the lead character. It’s not as good as in Roger Ackroyd, which is a very good novel/mystery, but it is a good way to structure what is otherwise a rather run of the mill kind of mystery. Since the puzzle itself is not the best, having the character and voice function as it does makes up ground.