Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Closer Look: Clues and Red Herrings in MURDER AT THE VICARAGE--Spoilers

Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery (Agatha Christie Collection)Judging from the interest I've noted on posts about planting clues, I thought we could take a closer look at several mysteries….the clues and red herrings that make them such intriguing reads.

Because most current mystery writers would not be pleased at having spoilers on their books posted, I’m going to focus my efforts on the late, great Agatha Christie. Obviously, if you’re interested in reading these books (highly recommended), and don’t want to know the endings, read no further.

Today I’m focusing on Murder at the Vicarage by Christie. It’s one in her Miss Marple series. An excellent example of an early cozy mystery, it’s set in the fictitious village St. Mary Mead. Here, we’re introduced to a limited number of suspects, all with intimate knowledge of the victim: Colonel Protheroe.

Followers of Christie and Miss Marple may note that Miss Marple is a little more abrasive than in later novels.

The Murderer and His Motive:

  • Artist Lawrence Redding, who was having an affair with the Colonel’s wife. He killed the Colonel to ensure that his wife would become a wealthy woman (and,he hopes, marry him.)

Red Herrings:

  • Redding actually confessed to the murder (in an apparent, but false, attempt to “protect” another suspect). He was cleared of the murder, based on the time the coroner placed the murder. In fact, he was working with a partner--his lover, Mrs. Protheroe, who committed the crime while her partner had an alibi.
  • Mrs.Protheroe also confesses to the murder towards the beginning of the book (in a very unbelievable manner.) Consequently, the police believe that Mrs. Protheroe has confessed merely to win the freedom of her lover, Redding. Redding arranges an alibi to protect her from suspicion.


  • Redding puts the pistol in a potted plant outside the door to the Vicarage for Mrs. Protheroe to pick up immediately before the murder. Miss Marple realizes it would make the perfect place to hide a weapon for a partner.
  • No purse for the Colonel’s wife as she walked toward the vicarage (to prove to witness Miss Marple that she has no weapon on her person.) The absence of the purse was odd to Miss Marple.
  • Redding needed to have a second shot fired to create an alibi for Mrs. Protheroe. He rigs a rock to fall to create an explosion, or "shot." When discovered, he tells the person he's collecting a rock for Miss Marple's garden. Miss Marple realizes he clearly wouldn't have imagined she needed such a large stone for her garden...and starts to wonder.
  • It's established that Redding was an excellent amateur actor. He called the vicar, pretending to be a woman who needed him to call on her...drawing him away from the vicarage so Redding could murder the Colonel, who had an appointment with the vicar.
  • Miss Marple finds it strange that Redding and Mrs. Protheroe appear very light-hearted when she sees them departing from Redding's studio. They were supposed to be breaking off their affair, by request of the vicar who wanted them to do the right thing. In fact, they've just killed the Colonel and are attempting not to reflect the turbulent emotions they're feeling (they're completely aware that Miss Marple is the town's busybody and will be looking out her window.)