- Murder Is Easy
Murder is Easy
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author(s) Agatha Christie Cover artist Not known Country United Kingdom Language English Genre(s) Crime novel Publisher Collins Crime Club Publication date June 5, 1939 Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback) Pages 256 pp (first edition, hardback) ISBN NA Preceded by Hercule Poirot's Christmas Followed by The Regatta Mystery
Murder is Easy is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on June 5, 1939 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in September of the same year under the title of Easy to Kill. Christie's recurring character, Superintendent Battle, has a cameo appearance at the end, but plays no part in either the solution of the mystery or the apprehension of the criminal. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
Luke Fitzwilliam happens to share a London bound train carriage with Miss Pinkerton, a seemingly dotty but sweet elderly lady, who reminds Luke of his own aunt. She talks to him about a series of murders—disguised as accidents—taking place in her home village of Wychwood-under-Ashe. Miss Pinkerton says that although the local police are out of their depth, she knows the identity of the murderer because of a telling gaze that this person fixes on the intended victim. She is on her way to Scotland Yard to reveal the guilty party. Unfortunately, she does not inform Luke who it is.
Luke learns the next day that Miss Pinkerton was killed in a hit-and-run car accident before reaching the Yard. He goes to the village, posing as a folklore researcher, to find the murderer himself. Four main suspects soon present themselves: a creepy antique dealer, a prickly solicitor, a smug doctor and a bombastic, self-made peer engaged to an attractive young woman; but Is the culprit one of the other inhabitants of the village, which emanates a pervasive supernatural atmosphere that unsettles Luke's detective work?
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of June 10, 1939 published a review of the book by Maurice Percy Ashley, together with And Death Came Too by Richard Hull which began "A week in which new novels by Mr Hull and Mrs Christie appear should be a red letter week for connoisseurs of detective fiction. One must, however, reluctantly confess that neither of them is fully up to standard."
After considering in isolation And Death Came Too, Mr. Ashley turned his attention to Murder is Easy and started, "Mrs Christie has abandoned M. Hercule Poirot in her new novel, but it must be confessed that his understudy, Luke Fitzwilliam, a retired policeman from the Mayang States is singularly lacking in 'little grey matter.' Poirot may have recently become, with advancing years, a trifle staid, but absence makes the heart grow fonder of him." After outlining the basics of the plot and the romantic interests of the main character, Mr. Ashley concluded, "He (Luke) is less effective a detective than as a lover, which is not surprising since neither he nor the reader is provided with any clear clues pointing to the fantastically successful murderer. The love interest scarcely compensates for the paucity of detection and the characters verge on caricature; nor is Fitzwilliam able to recapture vividly enough the circumstances of the earlier murders."
In The New York Times Book Review for September 24, 1939, Kay Irvin said the book was "...one of Agatha Christie's best mystery novels, a story fascinating in its plot, clever and lively in its characters and brilliant in its technique." She concluded, "The story's interest is unflagging, and the end brings excitement as well as surprise."
William Blunt in The Observer of June 4, 1939 raised a question regarding Christie's possible ability to write non-criminous fiction, which demonstrates that her nom-de-plume identity of Mary Westmacott was not yet public knowledge: "I should hate to have to state on oath which I thought was Agatha Christie's best story, but I do think I can say that this is well up in the first six. The humour and humanity of its detail raise a question which only one person can give an answer. Agatha Christie has grown accustomed to working her embroidery on a background of black. Could she, or could she not, leave death and detection out, and embroider as well on green? I believe she is one of the few detective novelists who could. If she would let herself try, just for fun. I believe it would be very good fun for other people, too."
E.R. Punshon in The Guardian's issue of July 11, 1939 said that, "Readers may miss the almost supernatural cunning of Poirot, but then if Luke also depended on the famous 'little grey cells' he would be merely another Poirot instead of having his own blundering, straightforward, yet finally effective methods." Mr. Punshon summed up by saying that the story, "must be counted as yet another proof of Mrs. Christie's inexhaustible ingenuity."
Robert Barnard: "Archetypal Mayhem Parva story, with all the best ingredients: Cranford-style village with 'about six women to every man'; doctors, lawyers, retired colonels and antique dealers; suspicions of black magic; and, as optional extra ingredient, a memorably awful press lord. And of course a generous allowance of sharp old spinsters. Shorter than most on detection, perhaps because the detection is, until the end, basically amateur. One of the classics."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
An adaptation, with the inclusion of Miss Marple (played by Julia McKenzie), was included in the fourth season of Marple; it deviated significantly from the novel by removing, adding, and changing characters, adding subplots, and changing the murderer's motives. It's Miss Marple who meets Miss Pinkerton on the train and learns of her suspicions about the village deaths. Pinkerton is killed in a fall down a London station escalator while enroute to Scotland Yard. Miss Marple meets 30-ish police detective Luke Fitzwilliam (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) in the village, where he is dealing with a deceased relative's property, and they recognize one another's investigative inclinations and work together to solve the murders. Lord Whitfield and Giles Ellsworthy do not appear and Honoria Waynflete is changed from a jealous elderly lady to a mentally disturbed young woman.
- 1939, Collins Crime Club (London), June 5, 1939, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1939, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), September 1939, Hardcover, 248 pp
- 1945, Pocket Books, Paperback, 152 pp (Pocket number 319)
- 1951, Pan Books, Paperback, 250 pp (Pan number 161)
- 1957, Penguin Books, Paperback, 172 pp
- 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 190 pp
- 1966, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 219 pp
The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from November 19 (Volume 211, Number 21) to December 31, 1938 (Volume 211, Number 27) under the title Easy to Kill with illustrations by Henry Raleigh.
The UK serialisation was in twenty-three parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday, January 10 to Friday, February 3, 1939 under the title of Easy to Kill. All of the instalments carried an illustration by "Prescott". This version did not contain any chapter divisions.
- ^ The Observer June 4, 1939 (Page 6)
- ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- ^ Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- ^ The Times Literary Supplement June 10, 1939 (Page 343)
- ^ The New York Times Book Review September 24, 1939 (Page 20)
- ^ The Observer June 4, 1939 (Page 7)
- ^ The Guardian July 11, 1939 (Page 7)
- ^ Daily Mirror June 8, 1939 (Page 22)
- ^ Toronto Daily Star December 2, 1939 (Page 13)
- ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 199). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
- ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers - Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD3 and NPL LON MLD3.
- Murder is Easy at the official Agatha Christie website
- Murder is Easy (1982) at the Internet Movie Database
- Marple: Murder is Easy (2008) at the Internet Movie Database
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