2 October 2011

Review: THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, Agatha Christie

  • This edition published by Fontana Books 1970
  • originally published 1942
  • 191 pages
  • source: my own collection
Synopsis (Christie.com)

“Those quiet ones are often the worst.  Jane Marple says so.” Miss Wetherby.

Dolly Bantry wakes in her beautiful home in the quiet village of St Mary Mead; everything is perfect until the shocking discovery of a body in the library. Who is the murdered young girl and who could possibly have killed her? Suspicion falls on Dolly’s husband, a man with a reputation as a flirt, who swears he never met the young woman – but why was she found in his library?

Dolly calls on her friend, Miss Marple to help them in their time of need. Can she find the killer or is village gossip about Colonel Bantry true? Nothing seems certain, then another body is discovered…

My Take

THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY saw Miss Marple's third appearance (she had already appeared in THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE (1930) and THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS (1932) which was actually a collection of connected short stories).

Various characters apart from Dolly and Arthur Bantry also appear in other Marple titles including Sir Henry Clithering and Jane Marple already has a reputation of a puzzle solver. Her method is to compare situations to those that she has already encountered in village life and she is full of anecdotes. All those who first meet her see is that she is an old lady who merges into her background. Others like the Chief Constable know better. Dolly Bantry on the other hand is disappointed when Miss Marple can't solve the murder when she first sees the body in the library.

A couple of things struck me. First of all Christie is not very complImentary about the police force, from the way Police-Constable Palk answers the phone with his "Hallo, 'hallo, 'hallo", to the name of Inspector Slack.

THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY is full of people who aren't quite who or what they seem. Appearances are deceptive. People who don't look nice quite often are, and vice versa. This provides quite a bit of misdirection and a number of red herrings.

The other thing that struck me is that we the readers know what the police know and we know most of what Miss Marple knows. But she doesn't know all that the police know. She has only partial knowledge. But we rarely "see" what she is thinking. That makes it all the more puzzling when she eventually nods her head and tells Dolly that she knows who the murderer is.

A very satisfying read, part of my participation in the , my 10th Agatha Christie title for this year..

My rating: 4.4

You might also be interested in this post: did agatha christie change her mind about miss marple?

Here is Joan Hickson in THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY from YouTube


Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - A really fine review - thanks :-). You know, I hadn't thought about it, but you've got a point about the way Christie paints the police. In some novels she's more complimentary than in others. But there are indeed several novels where they aren't painted in the most positive light. Interesting point about the name of that Inspector, too...

Mack said...

I picked up my copy of The Body in the Library in the giftshop at Christie's home, Greenway when we visited with Norman several years ago. I selected it solely because it had the word library in the title an I'm a librarian. It was a fortunate choice because I quite enjoyed it.

It is nicely complex with the action moving between Gosington Hall and St Mary Mead and the resort hotel, large cast of characters, subplots to bring together, misdirections, and odd occurrences. The character of Basil Blake seemed quite daring to me for a cosie of the time. And a character uses a word I did not expect to see in a Miss Marple story.

As far as treatment of the police, I disagree somewhat. Miss Marple is going to be the one to put the pieces together but I though she did a good job with the procedural part of the investigation in this story. I thought Christie was having fun with Inspector Slack's name, playing with contrasts. As she points out in several stories, he is anything but slack. "Activity was always to Inspector Slack's taste", "In vain Inspector slack redoubled that energy that so belied his name."

This is an excellent story even if you are not fond of the cosie genre.


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