The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie

Body In The LibraryAnd we’re back…

Gossington Hall, home of Dolly and Colonel Arthur Bantry, is disturbed one morning when the body of a young, platinum blonde girl is discovered in, yes, the library. No apparent connection is made between the location and the body and nobody recognises her. Luckily Dolly’s old friend, Jane Marple, has a few ideas…

Soon a second body is discovered and the focus of the investigation becomes the Majestic Hotel in Danemouth, and a tale of adopted young women and a possibly lost inheritance. But how on earth –and why – did that body end up in the library?

Wow, almost a fortnight since the last review. After a prolific start to the month, I’ve managed to finish one book in the last week, namely this one. A few reasons – primarily an attempt to get through a rather turgid affair of a mystery where nothing seemed to happen between 10 and 50% of the way through (can’t do page numbers with a Kindle!). Something might have happened after that but I couldn’t be bothered to find out. No names, no review, the usual deal.

So I resorted to a safe pair of hands, namely Dame Agatha, and Miss Marple – mainly due to the disappointment of They Do It With Mirrors. And The Body In The Library is one that I remember little of, so I thought I’d give it a spin.

I wonder… one of the criticisms often levelled at Christie is that her characters lack depth. It’s possible that this may stem in part from this book. It’s one of the better known Marple books – it was used to launch both the Joan Hickson Miss Marple series and the more recent ITV series (with a different murderer, no less). But apart from the set-up, of an unknown body discovered in a library, there isn’t much on display here to reflect Christie’s talent.

The characters aren’t particularly interesting – Jane Marple comes off well, but a lot of the suspects are just… there. The murder(s) happen, the police talk to the suspects a bit, and then Miss Marple reveals whodunit. But because I didn’t particularly care for the characters, I didn’t particularly care for the mystery. Once you spot the trick that Christie is playing with events – and it’s a pretty obvious one – the murderer becomes far too obvious.

I do wonder what the popularity of this one is – A Murder Is Announced is a far better mystery, for example – but it’s often cited as being one of the best Miss Marple books. It’s better than They Do It With Mirrors, true, but it’s not great.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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20 Responses to The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie

  1. richmcd says:

    I think it’s because of the setup (and the fact that the title describes it, so it’s easy for people to remember which one it is). It also has some of Christie’s best psychology for Miss Marple. The clues she spots (the fingernails, Basil Blake’s arguments with Dinah Lee etc.) are a great fit for the character and it’s really believable here that she (and only she) could solve the mystery.

    On the other hand, I mainly agree with you. The characters are flat, and the simplicity of the clues and the central trick is spoiled by a lot of overcomplicated faff. It’s the same with The Murder in the Vicarage and A Pocket Full of Rye – Miss Marple should be solving less messy crimes than this.

    BUT… it made a great adaptation. The Joan Hickson one is drawn out and dull, but the Geraldine McEwan episode is brilliant. The characters are given… not exactly depth but they stand out more. And Dolly Bantry’s character is camped up to good effect (well it’s all camped up, but it’s hardly a very realistic crime). Even the change of murderer makes sense. People made a lot of fuss, but it’s hardly a different murderer in any real sense. The principle is the same, and as you rightly point out, the characters in the book are so flat that they’re basically interchangeable.

    Miss Marple’s final bit of deduction in the book simply isn’t sound. The evidence bears her out, but only because Christie says so and she was too blinkered to consider all the possibilities. I bet that came up when they storyboarded the book for the first draft, and they played with it cleverly. It’s an extremely accomplished bit of adaptation.

  2. I do enjoy Agatha Christie’s books but I have a preference for those featuring Poirot to Miss Marple.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    I regard this as a good mystery with a clever solution. Suspenseful. It definitely becomes unputdownable towards the end.
    I also enjoyed the humorous bits especially the one where the news of the body being found in the library travels from person to person with inventive addition/modification at each step.
    However, what I found irritating was Miss Marple’s constant reference to persons in her village of whom she is reminded by the behavior of the present characters. This method of solving crimes is far-fetched and for this reason I prefer Poirot to Marple.

    • But once you realise the trick, which is too heavily clued, one half of the solution is obvious and the other half is arbitrary. Rather a poor mystery for me, I’m afraid.

  4. Santosh Iyer says:

    And, congratulations on winning third place in UK Open Puzzle tournament in Croydon and thus qualifying for the World Puzzle Championship.

    • richmcd says:

      Gosh. Yes, congratulations Doc! I remember entering many moons ago (the final was in Hungary, I think), but I didn’t get anywhere. For some reason I can do some of the puzzle types (Nurikabe/Slitherlink/Battleships) no problem, but others just leave me stymied (e.g. any Kakuro that’s hard enough to be worth bothering with). Which is weird, because they’re all logic problems at their heart, and ought to respond to the same range of techniques.

      Where’s the World Championships this year?

      • Sunny Croydon, I’m afraid. It’s in a nice hotel though.

        I think I’m going to do a post about it soon as there’s still two places up for grabs in the team. More later.

  5. Pingback: The Puzzly – The ISOTCMN Book Of The Month – March 2014 | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  6. I agree that Murder is Announced in far better (just been re-reading it – indeed is my favourite Marple) – I suspect the title has a lot to do with this one’s popularity frankly …

    • richmcd says:

      I think A Murder is Announced had the potential to be Christie’s best book. It’s a clever mystery, and it’s actually ABOUT something (identity shifts post-WWII) in a way that’s interesting, perceptive and ultimately vital to the plot. A lot of Christie (like Body in the Library) is a clever puzzle but not much else.

      Unfortunately, it really needed another draft. The central solution, while far-fetched and rather obvious, works well, and there are some really wonderful clues, but all the red herrings are ridiculous. The third murder is gratuitous, and the sheer number of coincidences that complicate matters hold it back from being a masterpiece.

      This is something that Christianna Brand understood much better than Christie. It’s fine to have the possibility that anyone could be an impostor, and to work a clever false solution around each person. But when everyone actually IS an impostor, independently, with some less guilty than others, you’ve overstepped the bounds of plausibility. It’s the difference between creeping paranoia, making you see all sorts of sinister possibilities and suspecting the innocent in turn, and a plot requiring a freak alignment of the cosmos to work.

      • The extra murder in ANNOUNCED is definitely unnecessary and of course is a problem for a lot of books from this era

      • It’s been a while since I’ve read it, to be fair. Out of curiosity, which (if any) Marple books do you rate highly?

      • richmcd says:

        I think The Murder at the Vicarage is very good, albeit with some of the same problems that plague Body in the Library and A Murder is Announced: there’s too much going on, which badly undercuts the attempted realism, because the sheer number of coincidences (everyone up to no good on the same day) beggars belief.

        Still, Miss Marple’s character is much more to my taste in the first outing, with less nostalgia and rambling, and I think the vicar is one of Christie’s strongest first-person narrators. Again, the McEwan adaptation really gets this one right. Loses the vicar focus, unfortunately, but the addition of the strong friendship between Miss Marple and Anne Protheroe and the addition of the war background is a brilliant choice – it gives the story real emotional heft, clearly delineates Miss Marple’s character (and morality) and adds some clever clues to the mystery, making it much more solvable.

        If I’m allowed it as a novel, I also like The Tuesday Club Murders (The Thirteen Problems). It’s got some of Christie’s best short stories, with some clever twists that would be annoying in a longer format. The gentle thread that holds it all together is good too. Probably not one to read in a single sitting, but reading a story a week over a few months, I think it would produce a really nice effect.

        The Moving Finger has some nice ideas, but it loses its way in the middle, and the suicide note clue is disappointingly lame. Another good narrator there, though.

        The rest I’m afraid aren’t much cop. The Mirror Crack’d is nice for similar reasons to Murder is Announced (good observation on changes in village life), but it’s EXACTLY THE SAME TRICK, and the Lady of Shallot stuff seems really forced and pointless, much like the conjuring stuff in They Do It With Mirrors. I wonder if Christie had trouble coming up with relevant titles? (Actually I like the central idea in They Do It with Mirrors, that Carrie Louise, when all is said and done, has her intuition in the right place. It’s a clever, believable and surprising twist. It’s just a shame Christie had to peg such a lame and obvious impossible crime on it.)

        Everything else is pretty rubbish, in my opinion, with either At Bertram’s Hotel or Nemesis being the worst.

        It’s a shame really. Miss Marple is a much better character than Poirot, but she’s lumbered with some pretty clunky mysteries to solve.

        The usual caveats, of course: I’m critical, but I’d rather reread any of these than a lazy procedural full of mutilated women or a pointless cosy set in a haunted haberdashers, with only two and a half clues and a cat.

  7. TipTop says:

    I just found this blog and read through the comments, and in my opinion, the last murder isn’t unnecessary at all. It’s hard to explain without mentioning the solution, but for one, it shows once and for all, of what a to an excent decent person is capable of, and more important, there’s a very nice parallel between the second murder. Miss Blacklock is one of the main characters, and her grief for the second victim is mirrored by Miss Hinchcliff’s grief for the third victim.

    • TipTop says:

      I meant the last murder in “A murder is announced”, of course.

    • Definitely need to get round to re-reading A Murder Is Announced. It’s getting more comments that the book this post is about!

      There’s plenty more Marple and Poirot post all over the blog. Hope you enjoy them.

  8. Santosh Iyer says:

    There seems to be much ado over an extra murder. The same thing happened in the post on Death In The Clouds by Agatha Christie and poor Hercule Poirot was blamed for the second murder !

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  10. Pingback: The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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