Reading Journal: A Murder Is Announced

This week, my “Women of Mystery” class at Mason is meeting Miss Marple for the first time—in a way, just as the world met her, since we’re reading the very first Miss Marple story, “The Tuesday Night Club,” originally published in Royal Magazine in December 1927 and ultimately the lead tale in the collection The Thirteen Problems in 1932.

But while that’s our introduction to the character, we’ll be spending more time on the 1950 novel A Murder Is Announced. As the title states, the book’s first murder was indeed announced—ahead of time!—in the Personal Column of the village newspaper, a paragraph which other townspeople think is an invitation to a kind of Murder Game (the lights go out, the “killer” touches your shoulder, and you’re down for the count). But when the lights go out and actual gunshots roar forth… well, what seemed like a lark becomes all too real.

While the mystery here is twisty and surprising, the main reason I teach this is for the portrait the book offers of post-World War II England: economic austerity, intergenerational friction, distrust of foreigners and refugees, a sense of loss and nostalgia for the world of the past. As John Curran writes, in Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: “Apart from its sublime detective plot, A Murder Is Announced is also a convincing picture of an England stumbling out of post-war austerity. We are no longer in the world of butlers and cocktail receptions; there is no dressing for dinner or questioning the lady’s-maid; no weekend guests or alibis provided by nights at the opera….”

It’s a fascinating book, with plenty to talk about thematically and in terms of the larger context for this text. And such a joy to reread always!