18 December 2013

Review: AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL, Agatha Christie

  • first released November 1965, serialised in Woman's Own, UK
  • this edition in Paul Hamlyn Agatha Christie Collection 1972
  • Miss Marple
Synopsis (Agatha Christie site)

“Even at Bertram’s, thought Miss Marple, interesting things could happen...” Impeccable service and grandeur at the hotel, but Miss Marple didn’t anticipate the eccentric guest who went to the airport on the wrong day…

One of Miss Marple’s few outings from St Mary Mead, this time she’s holidaying in London, when a certain eccentric guest sets off a violent chain of events.

Bertram’s, the fictional hotel featured in the story, is thought to have been inspired by Brown’s Hotel in London, a favourite haunt of Agatha Christie, but could also have been based on the Mayfair Hotel, Fleming’s.

The story was adapted for TV starring Joan Hickson in 1987. BBC Radio 4 dramatised the story in 2004 and it was adapted again for TV in 2007, this time featuring Geraldine McEwan as the elderly sleuth, and included substantial changes from the novel.

My Take

I have seen the TV versions of the novel several times and in fact did wonder whether it was worth my while reading the book, it being next in my list for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

I hadn't realised how much the story had been modified for television, with characters left out, and others inserted. There are a number of plot changes.

The main import of the novel is that nothing at Bertram's Hotel in 1955 is as its seems: all is a facade, from the appearance of the hotel, to the people who visit it, to the people who run it. Miss Marple realises that it is a mistake to try to step back to pre-war days. In fact the Bertram's Hotel she remembers is much older than that, a memory from her childhood.

The story also illustrates Agatha Christie's conviction of the prevalence of organised crime rings that underpinned facades of normality. The police inspector who carries out the investigation into Bertram's shady dealings and the disappearance of Canon Pennyfather is an avuncular old chap who has seen it all, but he is not the same as the bouncing lad of the television production. Nor is there the romantic element that TV gave us for public consumption.

I don't think Miss Marple comes out of thebook particularly well - Christie portrays her as an old busybody who eavesdrops on people's conversations when she can. On the other hand she does recognise evil when she sees it and she demonstrates an understanding of the foibles of the elderly. For example she knows that Canon Pennyfather had mistaken the day he should be flying to Lucerne, and when he returns to Bertram's Hotel, she instantly knows he is not the person she  saw descending the stairs at 3 am.

So an interesting read. Perhaps not Christie's best.

My rating: 4.3

Check the review on Christie in a Year and the one at BooksPlease.

This completes my reading for Agatha Christie Reading Challenge for 2013.
I have now read 57 novels and I think I have about 10 to go, and also some short story collections.
  1. 1966, THIRD GIRL
  2. 1967, ENDLESS NIGHT
  6. 1971, NEMESIS
  8. 1973, POSTERN OF FATE (Last novel Christie ever wrote)
  9. 1975, CURTAIN (Poirot's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
  10. 1976, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case, written about 35 years earlier)


skiourophile said...

You are entering into some tricky territory with the late ones. I'll be interested in your thoughts on the quality of a couple of them. Good luck!

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

As Vicki says the later books are 'tricky' - I've read some and they certainly vary in quality.

It looks like you'll complete the challenge next year! What next??

Thanks for the link to my post.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Interesting how Miss Marple isn't quite as likeable here, just as she's not in The Murder at the Vicarage. I too wonder what you'll think of the rest of Christie's later work...


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