A Murder Is Announced is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in June 1950 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in the same month. The UK edition sold for eight shillings and sixpence (8/6) and the US edition at $2.50.
The novel features her detective Jane Marple. The murder is announced in advance a local newspaper in a small village; Miss Marple is staying at a spa hotel there for treatment. She works with Inspector Craddock of the county police.
The book was heavily promoted upon publication in 1950 as being Christie’s fiftieth book, although this figure could only be arrived at by counting in both UK and US short story collections.
This novel is set just after World War II. Characters in the novel are still dealing with food rationing and the laws supporting it. This complicates communication with the police, as people in the village use barter as well as the coupons to get the food items they need. Furthermore, the connections among people in a village, and the extent to which they know and accept people new to the village, form an important aspect of this novel.
Robert Barnard remarks that Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, is “one of the few Christies anchored in time and space: we are in Essex, during the First World War.” His commentary on all of Christie’s novels and short stories seems to miss the strong ties to time and place in A Murder Is Announced.
A “distantly related” storyline had previously been explored in Christie’s Miss Marple short story “The Companion”, where the characters also lived in Little Paddocks.
A notice appears in the local newspaper for Chipping Cleghorn: “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, 29 October, at Little Paddocks, at 6.30 pm. Friends accept this, the only intimation.” This surprises Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks. She prepares for guests that evening. Some villagers appear at the house, showing definite interest. As the clock strikes 6.30, the lights go out, and a door swings open, revealing a man with a blinding torch who demands the guests “Stick ’em up!” The game ends when shots are fired into the room. When the lights turn on, Miss Blacklock is bleeding, and the masked man is dead on the ground. Miss Blacklock’s companion, Dora “Bunny” Bunner, recognises the man as Rudi Scherz, a Swiss man who worked for a local hotel and had recently asked Letitia for money.
The crime scene plus interviews with all who witnessed it lead police to drop the case, but Inspector Craddock is not satisfied. He learns that Scherz had a criminal background of petty theft and forgery. Then Craddock meets Miss Jane Marple at lunch with his boss and Sir Henry Clithering, at the hotel where Scherz worked. Craddock brings Miss Marple in to help with the case after her suggestions prove correct. Scherz’s girlfriend Myrna Harris tells Craddock that Scherz had been paid to appear as the holdup man — a fall guy, as Miss Marple had said. He had not said who paid him. The police feel the real target is Letitia Blacklock, and that Scherz was killed by his unknown employer to prevent him talking.
Inspector Craddock discovers oil on the hinges of a door into the parlour, thought to be unused. Bunny mentions a table had been placed against the door until recently, further supporting the theory that someone slipped out behind Scherz and shot at Letitia.
The motive for an attack on Miss Blacklock is straightforward, as she will soon inherit great wealth. She worked for the financier Randall Goedler. Randall Goedler’s estate passed to his wife Belle, who is near death. When Belle dies, Miss Blacklock will inherit. If she predeceases Belle, the estate goes to “Pip” and “Emma”, twin children of Randall’s estranged sister, Sonia. Sonia broke with her brother 20 years ago upon her marriage to Dmitri Stamfordis.
Craddock travels to Scotland to meet Belle. He learns that neither Belle nor Letitia knows where Sonia, Dmitri, Emma, or Pip are now. No-one knows what the grown twins look like. Belle tells about Letitia’s sister Charlotte with a goitre. Their father, a doctor, did not believe in goitre surgery. Charlotte became a recluse as her goitre worsened. Dr Blacklock died shortly before the Second World War, and Letitia gave up her job with Goedler to take her sister to Switzerland for surgery. The two sisters waited out the war in Switzerland. Charlotte died suddenly of consumption. Letitia returned to England alone.
Miss Marple takes tea with Bunny. Bunny suspects Patrick Simmons; he, his sister Julia, and the young widow named Phillipa Haymes are all staying at Little Paddocks as guests. Bunny mentions that a shepherd lamp and shepherdess lamp in the house have been swapped; their tête-à-tête is interrupted when Letitia arrives.
Letitia holds a birthday party for Bunny, inviting almost everyone who was at the house when Scherz was killed. Mitzi, the cook, makes her special cake, nicknamed “Delicious Death”. After the party, Bunny has a headache. She takes some aspirin from a bottle in Letitia’s room. The next morning, Bunny is found dead, poisoned.
Craddock finds that the photos of Sonia Goedler have been removed from old albums. Craddock finds old letters by Letitia to Charlotte in the attic at Little Paddocks. Miss Marple compares one to a current letter.
When the vicar’s cat shorts out a lamp at the vicarage, the final clue falls into place for Miss Marple.
Miss Blacklock receives a letter from the real Julia Simmons, and she confronts her house guest, who reveals herself to be Emma Stamfordis. She denies attempting to kill Miss Blacklock, and says she has not seen her twin Pip since they were toddlers; their parents separated, each taking a child.
Misses Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd, present at the Scherz shooting, work out that Miss Murgatroyd stood behind the opened door and was not blinded by the torch. She could see who was in the room. They realise that the person who left the room when the lights went out came around behind Scherz, and shot him and Miss Blacklock. Just as Miss Murgatroyd realises who was the one person not in the room, the phone rings, summoning Miss Hinchcliffe away. As Hinchcliffe drives away, Murgatroyd runs out, shouting, “She wasn’t THERE!”. On the way back home, Miss Hinchcliffe offers Miss Marple a ride, and together they discover Murgatroyd’s body, strangled. Hinchcliffe tells Miss Marple of their discussion.
Inspector Craddock gathers everyone at Little Paddocks, where Mitzi claims to have seen Miss Blacklock shoot Scherz. Craddock dismisses her claim and accuses Edmund Swettenham of being Pip. However, Phillipa Haymes admits that she is Pip. Craddock then accuses Edmund of wanting to marry a rich wife by murdering Miss Blacklock so Phillipa will be wealthy. As Edmund denies this, a scream is heard from the kitchen, where they find Miss Blacklock attempting to drown Mitzi in the sink. When Miss Blacklock hears Dora Bunner’s voice telling her to stop, she releases Mitzi, breaks down, and is arrested by Sergeant Fletcher.
Miss Marple explains that Letitia died of pneumonia in Switzerland. Aware that Letitia was in line to inherit a fortune, Charlotte posed as her deceased sister and returned to England a year earlier, in a village where few people knew her. She avoided people who knew Letitia well, like Belle Goedler, and covered her throat with strings of pearls to hide the scars from her surgery. Rudi Scherz had innocently recognized her, having worked at the Swiss hospital where she had her surgery; Charlotte killed him to prevent him talking to anyone. She hired Scherz and had him put in the advertisement to gain witnesses. She oiled the door and frayed a lamp cord, which she later shorted by pouring water on it when everyone was distracted by the clock chiming, so the room would be suddenly dark. She had then come behind Scherz and shot him, cutting her own ear with nail scissors before returning. That night, she replaced the frayed lamp with a new one (shepherd vs. shepherdess, as Bunny said). Bunny knew both sisters from childhood. Charlotte had taken Bunny into her confidence about the inheritance but not about the murder of Scherz. Bunny sometimes called her “Lotty” (Charlotte) instead of “Letty” (Letitia); Charlotte feared that Bunny might thereby reveal the truth, so Charlotte had poisoned some aspirin tablets taken by Bunny. Amy Murgatroyd had realised that Miss Blacklock was the one person whose face was not illuminated by Rudi Scherz’s torch; Charlotte had overheard Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd’s conversation, and killed Murgatroyd as soon as Hinchcliffe left.
Miss Marple persuaded Mitzi and Edmund to play parts in tripping up Charlotte Blacklock; Phillipa’s admission to being Pip was not expected; Inspector Craddock kept up the act to claim Edmund was after Phillipa’s money. Mitzi had agreed to serve as the bait, and Miss Marple imitated Bunny’s voice to cause Charlotte to break down and confess.
Ultimately, Mitzi takes up a new post near Southampton. Phillipa and Emma inherit the Goedler fortune. Edmund and Phillipa marry and return to live in Chipping Cleghorn.
- 1950, Collins Crime Club (London), June 1950, hardcover, 256 pp
- 1950, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), June 1950, hardcover, 248 pp
- 1951, Pocket Books (New York), paperback, 229 pp
- 1953, Fontana Books (imprint of HarperCollins), paperback, 191 pp
- 1958, Pan Books, paperback, 204 pp (Great Pan 144)
The novel was serialised in eleven parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday 28 February to Saturday 11 March 1950. Five instalments carried an illustration by long-term Express artist Andrew Robb. This version did not contain any chapter divisions and contained only about half of the text that appeared in the book publication, totally omitting chapters five, six, seven, fourteen and the epilogue. It had been planned for this serialisation to take place closer to the eventual book publication in June 1950 but it was pulled forward by Christie’s literary agent Edmund Cork in an effort to boost interest at the ailing box office for the play Murder at the Vicarage.
In the US, the first serial publication was in the Chicago Tribune in forty-nine parts from Monday 17 April to Monday 12 June 1950.
The book was heavily promoted upon publication in 1950 as being Christie’s fiftieth book, a jubilee publication, although this figure was only arrived at by counting in both UK and US short story collections.
A Murder Is Announced – First Edition Book Identification Guide
The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1950||A Murder Is Announced||William Collins & Sons, London, ||First edition. "1950" on single line stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Red cloth lettered in black.|
|1950||A Murder Is Announced||Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1950||First American edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Red cloth lettered in gold. Price $2.50.|
Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:
UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.
US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.
Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.
A Murder Is Announced – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.