- First published: UK: Collins, June 1950; USA: Dodd Mead, June 1950
As Christie’s twentieth detective story, Cards on the Table, was one of the best Poirots, so her fiftieth is the best of the Miss Marples. Beginning with the ingenious idea of announcing one’s murders in the local paper, the tale is amusing and clever throughout. Miss Marple, for once, shines as detective, for she detects, both picking up gossip and reasoning from material clues and dialogue. The village setting is superbly drawn, and makes this the quintessential Marple; the detective herself is fully aware that village life has changed since 1939, that nobody knows who anybody else is, and so, neighbour cannot trust neighbour, and the tension slowly mounts. This makes possible the brilliant plot to secure an inheritance, one of the best surprises in all Christiedom, concealed by a more than generous helping of red herrings.
With this outstanding detective story, Agatha Christie celebrates her jubilee as a writer. For the fiftieth time she leaves us breathless with admiration for her incomparable adroitness and ingenuity. It is this fertile imagination which has won her unstinted and consistent praise throughout her career.
Every Friday morning to practically every house in the village of Chipping Cleghorn a copy of the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette was delivered by Johnnie Butt from Mr. Totman, stationer, of the High Street. On Friday, October 29th, in the “Personal” column, among the Articles for Sale or Wanted and the frenzied appeals for domestic help, was the following singular announcement: A murder has been announced and will take place on Friday, October 29, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30. Friends please accept this, the only intimation. A joke, of course; probably perpetrated by Miss Blacklock’s nephew Patrick; but nevertheless nothing would have deterred any one who had the slightest excuse from calling on the owner of Little Paddocks at the appointed time. One by one, shortly after six, they began to arrive – Colonel and Mrs. Easterbrook, Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, Mrs. Swettenham and her son Edmund, Mrs. Harmon, the vicar’s wife. Conversation was general; the chrysanthemums were admired, the central heating commented on; the only subject that was not mentioned was the newspaper announcement. Then at 6.30 precisely the lights went out…
In this latest crime story Miss Agatha Christie re-introduces Miss Marple, that benign old lady with a mind like a gimlet. Once more a murder is announced for the benefit and enjoyment of countless readers, and we on our par ton this happy occasion sound a fanfare.
Here is Agatha Christie’s fiftieth novel, her Jubilee story. Published simultaneously throughout the world, it has been the occasion everywhere of celebrations and congratulations on a unique and distinguished literary career.
The notice in the Gazette read quite simply: “A murder has been announced and will take place on Friday, October 29, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.”
It was a game, of course, for nothing so unusual could ever happen in the little village of Chipping Cleghorn.
Nevertheless, one by one, a little after six, the neighbours began to arrive, their nervous curiosity hidden by small talk about chrysanthemums and central heating. No one audibly mentioned the unusual announcement.
Then, suddenly, as six-thirty struck, the lights went out…
With this tense scene Agatha Christie opens her new story, and for the fiftieth time she leaves you admiring her adroitness as the plot weaves its way from surprise to surprise. No wonder that everywhere millions of readers, among them the top mystery writers, hail Agatha Christie as one of the greatest names in detective fiction.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 4th June 1950): For Her fiftieth book She has chosen a snug, residential village setting with Her favourite detective, silver-haired, needle-sharp spinster, Miss Marple, making a delayed appearance. First murder: an elaborately staged shooting at local hostess’s tea-party; some poisoning and strangling to cover up. Suspects include self-satisfied colonel, pair of jovial collar-and-tie spinsters, some delinquent-seeming young things. Not quite one of Her top-notchers, but very smooth entertainment. The Prime Minister, who is Her fervent admirer, might fittingly celebrate this jubilee by making Her a Dame.
Times Literary Supplement (Julian Maclaren-Ross, 23rd June 1950): A new novel by Miss Agatha Christie always deserves to be placed at the head of any list of detective fiction and her fiftieth book, A Murder is Announced, establishes firmly her claim to the throne of detection. The plot is as ingenious as ever, the writing more careful, the dialogue both wise and witty; while suspense is engendered from the very start, and maintained skilfully until the final revelation: it will be a clever reader indeed who anticipates this, and though Miss Christie is as usual scrupulously fair in scattering her clues, close attention to the text is necessary if a correct solution of the mystery is to be arrived at before the astute Miss Marple unmasks the culprit. The setting is a country village, financial gain at several removes the motive for concealment; an advertisement for a murder to be committed is inserted in the local newspaper and the crime duly takes place; Miss Christie has several surprises up her sleeve besides the main one, and (this much may be said without spoiling the reader’s pleasure) she once again breaks new ground by creating a weak and kindly murderer who is yet responsible for the deaths of three people: that such a character should, in the last analysis, seem credible, is a tribute to the author’s psychological acumen and originality of conception.
NY Times (C.V. Terry, 4th June 1950, 140w): It goes without saying that most readers will guess in vain, though the author lays her facts scrupulously on the line, along with an assortment of her famous red-herrings, all beautifully marinated. By no means neglect Miss Marple’s remarks on those faded letters, and the rope of pearls that turn out to be false, after all.
San Francisco Chronicle (E.D. Doyle, 4th June 1950, 300w): You’ll find that the old Christie magic is as potent as ever… Readers will not need to be assured that Miss Christie has done her usual fine job with characters, settings, dialogue and such. We’ve already suggested that the puzzle itself is worthy of its creator and of its predecessors.
Sat R of Lit (17th June 1950, 30w): A-1.
Springfield Republican (D.F.M., 23rd July 1950, 90w): One of her best. It has an exceedingly tricky plot that is well paced and nicely worked out. Inspector Craddock aided by Miss Marple, eventually solves the mystery, but the solution will surprise most readers.
Daily Telegraph: One of the most exciting murders she has given us.