"A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation."
A Murder is Announced is a mystery novel by Dame Agatha Christie. It was published in 1950 and features the world's most famous crime-solving old lady, Miss Marple. It has been adapted for film twice, once in 1986 and once in 2005. Prior to either of these versions, however, it was a stage play and a radio broadcast.
While the book did not achieve the widespread popularity of some of Christie's other works, such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, it is purported to be one of the most well known Miss Marple mysteries.
Storyline (no spoilers)
The story takes place in the village of Chipping Cleghorn, home to a number of reasonably eccentric (but, as far as anyone can tell, not particularly dangerous) characters. One day, a peculiar notice appears in the local paper: "A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation." While most villagers take this to be an invitation to a murder mystery-style dinner party, it comes as a surprise to Letitia Blacklock, the owner of Little Paddocks. Ms. Blacklock, her lifelong friend and housemate Dora "Bunny" Bunner and her niece and nephew aren't sure what to make of the posting, but when half the town shows up at the listed time and place for what they're sure is a dinner party, they're too polite to turn them away.
A man eventually comes to the door wielding a gun and demands that everyone in the room put their hands up. The lights go out and a gunshot is heard. When the lights come back on, the would-be assailant lies on the floor dead, and the guests find themselves wondering who he is and what he wanted.
The local police are called in to investigate (as is customary in these matters), but Miss Jane Marple is acquainted with some of the investigators and a number of the townsfolk. Naturally, she just happens to be in the area, and the police seek out her legendary logic. (They appear to have learned from previous cases wherein they attempted to solve murder cases on their own only to be outsmarted by the old woman at the very end.) They learn that the murdered man is an immigrant whom Ms. Blacklock seems to remember serving her at a café at some point. He asked her for money. She said no. Is he mad? Out for revenge? Does that even make any sense?
The murder captivates the small village, and everyone who was at the party -- from the rigid colonel and his gossipy wife to the scatterbrained vicar's wife -- starts trying to come up with a solution. Suddenly, Ms. Bunner winds up poisoned, and it looks as though the dosage was meant for Ms. Blacklock. All the while, the police and Miss Marple look into the Blacklock family history to find out why anyone would want to target Ms. Blacklock or her friends. Another villager start putting things together and herself winds up dead...
The novel's solution is both unexpected and surprising, with Miss Marple working alongside the police department to discover and ensnare the murderer.
The extent to which Miss Marple actually gets involved in the investigation seems to be unusual among Christie's Miss Marple series (or, at least, among the numerous Miss Marple books that I've read). Compared to a novel such as The Body in the Library, in which the book follows the attempts by local police officers to discover the truth behind the crime with only minimal appearances by Miss Marple until the very end, at which point she reveals who the murderer is, is correct and embarrasses the hell out of the supposedly trained crime solving squad.
In A Murder is Announced, however, Miss Marple works directly alongside the police officers. They consult with each other on evidence and suspects. At the end of the book, Miss Marple and the police reveal the identity of the murderer together and, in fact, jointly set a trap for said murderer. This sort of thing made this book particularly enjoyable, as Miss Marple's tendency to do most of her sleuthing behind the scenes had me preferring Hercule Poirot for quite a long time.
Christie obviously did not know that certain common expressions written during her prime would not necessarily translate well into the 21st century. One of the police officers refers to Miss Marple as an "old pussy" on multiple occasions. It was not intended as an insult and had nothing to do with its more modern-day meaning.
The book hints at a romantic relationship between two female village residents. Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database note that this theme is expanded upon somewhat in the 1985 film version and made much more obvious in the 2005 film version. While it's not terribly surprising that such a theme could be addressed in a Western-made film in the 21st century, Christie's hinting at the issue in 1950 is particularly noteworthy.
In the recently (2006-2007) released Agatha Christie collection, A Murder is Announced has a black and yellow book jacket decorated with a black and white photo of a clock, emphasizing the plot device of an announced, scheduled murder that is so integral to the story.
(Potential minor spoiler) Another notable element of this book is that a number of its characters turn out to not be who they claim to be. Christie's ability to pull this off was lauded by critics both at the time of the book's publication and today.