51 pages 1 hour read

Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1930

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 1930, Murder at the Vicarage is Agatha Christie’s first novel featuring the elderly detective Miss Marple. The character first appears in a 1927 short story entitled “The Tuesday Murder Club.” In Murder at the Vicarage, unpopular bully Colonel Protheroe dies from a gunshot wound in the study of St. Mary Mead’s Vicarage. All suspects have an alibi, including the victim’s wife and her lover, who each admits guilt to divert suspicion from the other. Humorous Vicar Leonard Clement narrates as he observes the police and counsels his flock, all the while watching his neighbor, Miss Marple, fit the pieces together to solve the crime.

This version references the 2011 HarperCollins EPub Edition.

Content Warning: The source text contains outdated and potentially hurtful stereotypes, caricatures, and minor violence.

Plot Summary

In a fit of temper at lunch, Vicar Leonard Clement wishes Colonel Protheroe dead. Protheroe boorishly insists on auditing church accounts because a parishioner insisted someone pilfered her money from the offering. Clement’s wife Griselda and his teenage nephew, Dennis, tease him. He notes Griselda’s youth, beauty, humor, and carefree nature make her unfit as a vicar’s wife, especially during tea at their house for the elderly ladies, who gossip about young, attractive artist Lawrence Redding. Redding uses the Vicarage’s studio and argues with Protheroe over painting Protheroe’s teenage daughter, Lettice, in her bathing suit. They also discuss a newcomer to the village, Mrs. Lestrange. They speculate about archeologist Dr. Stone, who is excavating a barrow on the Protheroe property, and the young, unmarried secretary Miss Cram.

Clement surprises Redding kissing not Lettice, but her stepmother, a much older Anne Protheroe, in the studio. Both separately ask Clement for advice. Colonel Protheroe stops Clement in the street and loudly says he will come to the Vicarage the next day to go over the accounts. The next afternoon, Redding visits the Vicarage and informs Clement he will leave the village to spare Anne. Clement is called to attend to a dying man and leaves word for Protheroe that he will be a few minutes late. After he discovered the supposedly dying man alive and well, Clement returns to the vicarage and finds Redding leaving in a state of shock and fear. Protheroe is dead at Clement’s study desk.

Inspector Slack and Doctor Haydock arrive. Doctor Haydock says the wound looks like it’s from a Mauser pistol. A broken clock that reads 6:22 and a note under the body with a timestamp of 6:20 seem to pinpoint the time of death. Clement insists he always sets his clock 15 minutes fast, but Slack ignores him. The next morning Redding goes to the police station with the Mauser pistol and admits to killing Protheroe. Clement, Haydock, and Slack are quick to find holes in his story and later that day Anne Protheroe confesses to killing her husband.

Miss Marple tells Colonel Melchett, the Chief Constable, that Anne Protheroe went briefly into the Vicarage and then down to the studio to meet Redding with no bag and no way to conceal a gun. Many neighbors including Mary, the Vicar’s maid, heard an odd shot from the woods, but not until after Anne Protheroe and Redding had gone to the studio. Slack clears both and each says they thought the other did it.

Hawes, Clement’s new curate, is ill and acts odd. He thinks a man Protheroe sentenced to jail is the murderer and presses the issue to Clement. Haydock tells Clement his curate has a disease that alters personalities. Clement and Redding search the woods for evidence a shooter could have arrived unseen from that direction. They find nothing. Interviews with the police reveal that Mrs. Lestrange went to see Protheroe at his home, Old Hall, the night before his death. She refuses to disclose to the police what they discussed. She does not attend the inquest, as Haydock has deemed her too sick. The other characters give their evidence, and the verdict is murder by a person or persons unknown.

To escape the press after, Clement drinks with Dr. Stone and Miss Cram in their rooms above the pub and helps Dr. Stone to the train station, where they see Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew, arrive from London. Clement searches the woods again and sees Redding emerging with a rock he says is for Miss Marple as an inducement to share information. She tells him to use his charms on the servants at Old Hall to find out about Mrs. Lestrange. The conversation Redding uncovers reveals Protheroe and Mrs. Lestrange did indeed argue. Colonel Melchett confirms the phone call to Clement about a dying parishioner was fake. Three older women in the area separately tell him they saw Mrs. Lestrange near the Vicarage at the time of the murder. One of their maids heard a man sneeze around the same time. An anonymous note reveals Griselda knew Redding better than Clement thought.

Miss Marple invites Clement and his household to visit with Raymond, who says he has met Dr. Stone the archeologist, and the man getting on the train wasn’t him. They inform the police. The next day, Miss Marple tells Clement she saw Miss Cram enter the woods with a suitcase around midnight and return empty-handed. Clement looks for it and finds odd crystals and the suitcase. Inside are silver items stolen from Old Hall. Hawes once again accuses the same person of Protheroe’s murder. He is paranoid that Redding randomly visited him the night before. Doctor Haydock tells Clement the crystals are picric acid and that he excused Mrs. Lestrange from the inquest because she is dying. Clement and Miss Marple discuss all this and the fact that the note isn’t in Protheroe’s handwriting and the time seems wrong. Miss Marple thinks she’s cracked the case but won’t tell until she’s certain.

Colonel Melchett and Clement speculate on Miss Marple’s accuracy and a hysterical Hawes calls to confess. When Clement gets there, he finds the note Protheroe was writing when the murderer shot him. The note accuses Hawes of stealing parish money. Hawes appears to have overdosed on medication. Melchett calls the doctor from Hawes’s apartment but gets the wrong number first and assumes Hawes is the murderer. The doctor arrives and takes Hawes to the hospital as Miss Marple also arrives; hers was the wrong number Colonel Melchett called. She says she’s glad Hawes is safe from the real killer. She explains that Redding and Anne Protheroe are the murderers. They framed Hawes and replaced his pills with some containing a lethal dose of medication. They confessed to divert suspicion and they planted blatantly misleading evidence to “frame” themselves, knowing the fake evidence would not hold up. Melchett wants solid proof, so Miss Marple hatches a plan. The doctor hints that someone saw Redding substitute the pills. Redding meets Anne to tell her he plans to flee. The inspector catches them talking about the murder.

The man posing as Dr. Stone is a notorious thief who worked at Old Hall. He left after the murder to avoid the inventory of the household that would reveal his theft. Investigation exposes Mrs. Lestrange as the first Mrs. Protheroe and Lettice’s mother. Anne committed the actual murder. She used a gun planted by Redding that afternoon and left it behind for Redding to collect. This way, Miss Marple saw her without the gun. The sneeze the maid heard was a silencer. Redding manipulated Anne to get her inheritance when Protheroe died. He replaced real evidence with fake to frame Hawes then stumbled out and pretended to Clement he’d found the body. He turned himself in without the silencer and made sure people saw him meet Anne at the studio during the time of the murder and complicated the time of death by rigging a rock to explode the picric acid well after.

Griselda tells Clement she is pregnant but slips away when she sees Miss Marple coming to visit. She wishes to keep the pregnancy secret. Miss Marple already knows and when Clement asks how, she reveals she saw Griselda purchase a parenting book. She promises to keep their secret.

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