Enjoy the first novels that brought the world two of Agatha Christies’ most enduring detectives: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
The Murder at the Vicarage: The first Miss Marple mystery, one which tests all her powers of observation and deduction.
"Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe," declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, "would be doing the world at large a favor!"
It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later - when the Colonel is found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Captain Arthur Hastings, invalided in the Great War, is recuperating as a guest of John Cavendish at Styles Court, the "country-place" of John's autocratic old aunt, Emily Inglethorpe - she of a sizeable fortune, and so recently remarried to a man 20 years her junior. When Emily's sudden heart attack is found to be attributable to strychnine, Hastings recruits an old friend, now retired, to aid in the local investigation. With impeccable timing, Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, makes his dramatic entrance into the pages of crime literature.
Make sure not to miss the rest of these detectives’ exciting adventures!
©1930 Agatha Christie Ltd. (P)2002 HarperCollins Publishers
The Murder at the Vicarage
Narrator - Joan Hickson
Sound quality - Excellent
Narration - I love the A&E Miss Marple series starring Joan Hickson so I was excited to listen to this edition. Unfortunately what I did not take into consideration is that that Ms. Hickson does not necessarily have the best voice for such things. Due to her soft tone I found many areas hard to understand and had to reverse and listen again to pick up what happening. Her inflections and all that were great, but I found that I simply did not enjoy her narration as much as I hoped.
Characters - This was Dame Agatha Christie's introduction to her readers to Miss Marple, and although she is not as well rounded as in other books and is not even the main focus of the story, it was a nice introduction which set the scene for her later development. The other characters were all very well developed and likable or not likable as Ms. Christie intends. As is the case with most of her books the characters are realistic in the meaning that she shows their strengths and weaknesses and makes you feel like they could be people you know in your everyday life. It is part of the reason her novels are so timeless.
Plot - The plot is a very well constructed "whodunit" and as always we are provided with a lot of subjects to choose from who all have their own reason for wanting the demise of the murdered man. Listening as the vicar makes rounds hearing all the inside happenings from the members of his flock as they all tell each others secrets and actions was a fun way of exposing all the possibilities and reasons and background. I think every single person is made to look guilty at one point or another in the story which is always fun as you try to determine who really committed the crime. I did find the ending a bit of a let down and bit too far fetched on how it all worked out, but not more so than other mysteries I have read of similar settings.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Narrator - Hugh Fraser
Narration - As disappointed as I was with Joan Hickson as a narrator for the Miss Marple series, I was as equally pleased with Hugh Fraser (the actor who portrays Captain Hastings in the A&E Series) as a narrator for the Poirot stories. His voice is very smooth and he nails the inflections in tones to really bring the story to life. It was especially fitting for this book as it is told from Captain Hastings point of view. I like him almost as well as I like Simon Prebble as a narrator.
Characters - This was Christie's first introduction to Poirot and he does not appear until a few chapters in as the story focuses on Captain Hastings return from the war and how he fits into Poirot's life. It introduces the three major recurring characters in all the Poirot novels - Poirot, Hastings, and the infamous Inspector Japp (although his character is not as well introduced as the others). Being the first book the characters are a bit more exaggerated and less "real" then they become in later novels as she spends time accentuating their foibles that make them unique. The supporting cast of characters were a bit weak in this novel possibly because the reader has so many to keep up with, but over all they are not unlikeable or unbelievable, just a bit underdeveloped.
Plot - The plot in this book is well constructed and complex as the one from the Murder at the Vicarage, but again I felt the ending was a bit rough. Just not enough to make the reader buy into it and you almost don't care by the time you get there. I cant' really comment too much more without adding spoilers which I don't want to do. I believe fans of Agatha Christie will note that the ending reveals a plot which she develops better in one of her other novels but I won't say which one, but I will say it is a novel that was executed much better in building up to the unveiling than this one.
All in all I would rate the first story as a 3 star and the second as a 4 star so I am going with the 3 star due primarily to problems with the endings and Hickson's lack of success in my opinion as a narrator.
Ms. Hickson was a wonderful actor and I have enjoyed many of her performances, especially as Ms. Marple. However, as a narrator she, unfortunately, falls short. Thankfully the second book was narrated by Mr. Fraser who is an excellent narrator and I thoroughly enjoyed his reading.
I am notsure why they chose to have a female reader for this Marple mystery. The narrator in the story is a man, and he is the primary investigator in the mystery. It was very confusing to keep hearing the narrator say "I" and then realize she was referring to a man. Normally that kind of gender swap doesn't bother me when the narrator is good, but in this particular case I would strongly recommend getting a different version of the audiobook.
These first novels of the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot series are very fun introductions to the world of Agatha Christie and the narrators are each great in their own way.
Despite the negative reviews of Joan Hickson's narration, I enjoyed her interpretation and felt she gave the characters the right inflections and life. She will always be the definitive Miss Marple to me after the brilliant BBC/A&E series and I loved her reading of 'Murder at the Vicarage', though she does sometimes almost slur/eat words.
Hugh Fraser does an even more excellent job reading 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'. I enjoyed his Captain Hastings in this story as well as in the PBS/A&E Poirot series. He has a lively voice adept at portraying each character distinctly and makes me want to listen to more Poirot stories just to hear him read these classic mysteries.
I would definitely recommend this combination to Agatha Christie fans; two unabridged novels in one purchase is a great treat!
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