So I just finished re-reading this a few days ago:
What is it about Agatha Christie? She’s not my favorite mystery writer by any means. Her characters are rarely well-developed, her racism and classism are often all too apparent, her knowledge of actual police procedure is either woeful or just never used in her stories. Some of her plots, particularly those in her “international thrillers,” are far-fetched and strain all credibility.
And yet, here’s what it says on the back of The Murder at the Vicarage: “Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages.” Despite all her faults, we love her and keep reading her books. This book is part of a new paperback series published in 2011, one of umpteen editions since the work was first published in 1930. Just off the top of my head, I can think of 7 different hardback and paperback editions of Christie’s books that I’ve picked up over the years, the first being a hardback Fontana from the library with a crazy orange cover and 2 psychedelic fish on it. (At this point, I can’t even remember what book that was.)
Here’s what I love about Agatha Christie: comfort. It’s like the literary equivalent of mac ‘n’ cheese, or mashed potatoes, or (since we’re all about Brits around here), India tea and scones. Since I first started reading mysteries at age 11, I’ve read all 80 (!) of her books multiple times. When I go to the library and look at the Christie shelves in the Fiction section, I see a title and can immediately bring to mind the plot, the murder and the murderer. And yet, when I read whatever book for the zillionth time, it’s still as enjoyable as the first time I picked it up. My mother-in-law has an entire bookcase at her lake house in Canada devoted to mysteries, but when we vacation there, just about the only books I read off those shelves are Christie’s. They are perfect for R&R reading, for lounging around in a hammock or on a couch.
And, honestly, re-reading Vicarage this time, I noticed what a good, solid writer Christie is. Her plots hang together well. Her puzzles are generally ingenious. Her characters may not be as well developed as more “literary” novels, but she has the gift of sketching them out in a sentence or two and suddenly, you can see them in front of you. Take this priceless sentence from page 14:
Miss Hartnell, who is weather-beaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor, observed in a loud hearty voice…
Don’t you get a good sense of Miss Hartnell’s personality from those few words? Can’t you just see her standing in front of you now? Christie obviously knew village life very well, and that knowledge gives us a vivid picture of St. Mary Mead and the people who inhabit it. It makes it fun to read Aunt Agatha…even for the 15th time.