Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Murder is Announced - Agatha Christie

First published 1950; cover shown is the 1969 Fontana (UK) paperback impression. Cover art by Tom Adams.

When a murder is announced in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, various friends of Miss Blacklock at Little Paddocks are thrilled - murder games are so exciting! The middle-aged Miss Blacklock and her two young visiting cousins had nothing to do with the Gazette advertisement, but knowing her nosy neighbours, Miss Blacklock ensures that finger food and sherry are on the table by 6:30pm - the proposed "murder" time.

Various acquaintances arrive just before 6:30pm, and while they are all sitting around the drawing-room agog with excitement, the lights suddenly turn off, a masked intruder yells "Stick 'em up" and three shots ring out. When calm and electricity is restored, the intruder is dead on the floor and Miss Blacklock is bleeding from a grazed ear.

Inquiries reveal that the intruder was Rudi Scherz, a petty thief. At first, Inspector Craddock thinks this may be a simple case of attempted armed robbery and subsequent accidental death. But then Miss Marple, visiting in the area and friendly with a local ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard, asks a question: why would such a small time crook suddenly graduate to armed robbery? Someone must have put him up to it, and it seems that Miss Blacklock was the target.

Further inquiries show that Chipping Cleghorn is populated with a lot of people who are not who they say they are. The young cousins may in fact be the alternative heirs to a fortune which is due to come to Miss Blacklock... if she doesn't die before an ailing elderly friend does. Everyone is under suspicion: the young trophy wife of a neighbour to Miss Blacklock is also the right age to be one of the never-seen heirs, as are at least two others who have easy access to Little Paddocks. As more murders occur, Miss Marple begins to realise that a bigger identity deception than anybody could have imagined has been successfully perpetrated for years.

Almost every Christie has a twist you just can't see coming, even though all the clues pointing to the killer are there. I hadn't read this novel in years and as usual I'd forgotten everything. If I hadn't recently watched the television series version I would have had no idea what was happening. It's an ingenious story, and as always I'm amazed at the plots that Christie came up with.

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