I try to read at least one Agatha Christie book a month. This month’s book is At Bertram’s Hotel, a Miss Marple book, first published in 1965, and written when Agatha Christie was seventy five.
Synopsis (from book cover):
An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out’¦
When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer.
Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day’.
Miss Marple is now the same age as Agatha Christie was at the time she was writing At Bertram’s Hotel and some of her thoughts and reactions are most likely to be those of the author herself – reflections on comfort for example – most appreciative of her bed, and a beautifully cooked breakfast, a real breakfast with properly poached eggs and enjoying ‘a delightful morning of shopping’ at the Army& Navy Stores. But Miss Marple is not one of the main characters in this book, although she does play a vital role.
In some ways, Bertram’s Hotel itself is a leading ‘character’. It’s ‘dignified, unostentatious and quietly expensive‘, patronised by clergymen, ‘dowager ladies of the aristocracy up from the country’ and ‘girls on their way home from expensive finishing schools.’ It’s Miss Marple’s choice when her nephew and his wife decide to do something for ‘poor old Aunt Jane’ and pay for her week’s stay. And yet it doesn’t seem real to her, the fact that it didn’t seem to have changed over the years made her think that it ‘really seemed too good to be true.’ (page 26)
There’s a long build up to any crime being committed and It’s only towards the end of the book that a murder occurs. Scotland Yard are concerned about a crime network that is getting too big and organised:
Robbery on a big scale was increasing. Bank hold-ups, snatches of pay-rolls, thefts of consignments of jewels sent through the mail, train robberies. Hardly a month passed but some daring and stupendous coup was attempted and brought off safely. (page 49)
(I was reminded that Agatha Christie was writing this at the time of, or shortly after the ‘Great Train Robbery’ of 1963 in which a gang of robbers held up a mail train and made off with £2.6 million (equivalent to £41 million now) – later in the book a train robbery takes place in Ireland.)
A number of characters are introduced quite quickly and I had to keep reminding myself who they were and how they fitted into the story. There’s the hotel staff, including Henry the ‘perfect butler’ and the visitors, including Lady Sedgewick and a number of elderly ladies, Colonel Luscombe and other retired military gentlemen, Canon Pennyfather, a vague forgetful white-haired elderly cleric, Elvira Blake, Colonel Luscombe’s ward and the police, including Chief Inspector Davy (nicknamed ‘Father’ by his staff – a nickname that I thought irritating and out of place, probably intended to make him seem paternal and safe). There is also the mysterious Mr Robinson, who I’ve come across in some of Agatha Christie’s other books.
The novel meanders along through a number of subplots before reaching the climax, which I thought was a bit signposted. The ending is both predictable and surprising with a final twist in the last sentence that pleased me.
One of the things I like about At Bertram’s Hotel are the little insights into Miss Marple’s mind – and her past. For example she had first visited Bertram’s Hotel as a girl of fourteen with her uncle and aunt, her Uncle Thomas had been a Canon of Ely. And I was delighted to discover that she had known romance because when she was a young woman she had had a friendship with ‘a very unsuitable young man‘ whose name she has forgotten. But her mother had firmly nipped that friendship in the bud, which later Jane realised was wise although at the time Jane Marple, ‘that pink and white eager young girl … such a silly girl in many ways’ had ‘cried herself to sleep for at least a week.’ (page 26)
As in other books featuring Miss Marple it’s her characteristic curiosity, what she preferred to call ‘taking an interest in other people’s affairs’, that is crucial to the plot. She is very good at overhearing conversations and she’s a light sleeper. She’s also very perceptive and just a touch cynical, no longer the silly girl of her youth.
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece edition edition (1 July 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0007121032
- ISBN-13: 978-0007121038
- Source: I bought the book
- My Rating: 4/5