The Body in the Library (1942) – Agatha Christie

Title:The Body in the Library
Author:Agatha Christie
Publishers:Fontana Books
Date of publication:1942 and 1975 (Fontana)
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

In the author’s foreword Christie mentions the literary cliché “the body in the library” particularly found in detective stories, and how this novel would be a variation on that old theme. Personally I have never read a story with this theme, but I can definitely see how this could have been a very popular one. As was always the case with Christie, this novel would continue in the tradition of appearing obvious and predictable at first glance, but would veer off and end in a twist that would baffle the most arduous of crime fiction readers.

“One does see so much evil in a village”

It begins as the title suggests with the body of a woman dressed in a glittery dress and jewels lying dead on the floor of the library of Gossington Hall, the home of Colonel and Mrs Bantry. Gossington Hall is situated in the little country village of St.Mary Mead, which also happens to be the home of amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. After the body of the woman, later identified as a Miss Ruby Keene is discovered in her home, Mrs Bantry wastes no time in contacting her old friend Miss Marple to help with the investigation.

The Bantrys claim to have no prior knowledge of Ruby Keene, making her appearance in their library very strange indeed. Those officially investigating the murder are Superintendent Harper and Colonel Melchett, who must begrudgingly rely on Miss Marple’s rather unlikely skills and her keen sense of human nature which has proven successful in countless past cases.

Ruby Keene worked as a professional dancer at a local hotel called The Majestic in the neighboring village of Danemouth. (When I say ‘dancer’ I am referring to the 1940’s version of dancers who were employed by hotels to dance with their guests during dinner and recreation hours.) Ruby who came from the city had been employed at The Majestic as a replacement for the regular entertainer, Josephine Turner. She would also be responsible for performing dances with a male partner, Raymond Starr, who was also employed at the hotel. Both Josephine and Raymond would instantly become suspects.

Ruby Keene by the few people who knew her or of her considered her to be somewhat of a ‘gold digger’. She had recently become friendly with an older wealthy gentleman and regular guest of The Majestic, Conway Jefferson, who after losing both his adult children in a fatal plane accident several years prior, was considering adopting the impressionable Ruby. Jefferson was the one who contacted the police when Ruby was noticed missing, which considering his very short relationship with her also made him a suspect. To complicate matters even more, Jefferson’s two constant companions, the spouses of his deceased children, were both with him at The Majestic the night of Ruby’s murder. Mark Gaskell and Adelaide Jefferson both had motives for murdering the young dancer placing them on the suspect list too.

Then there is the presence of a Hollywood type playboy, Basil Blake, who had just recently taken up residence in the village, and whom had often been seen with a bevy of beautiful women on his arm; and finally George Bartlett who was the last person to dance with Ruby and also the last person to have seen her alive.

Miss Marple arrives much to the delight of her good friend Mrs Bantry, and waits somewhat patiently in the background as Harper and Melchett investigate and interrogate the numerous suspects, hotel guests and residents of St Mary Mead and the surrounding village of Danemouth. Of course even though she is not officially on the case Miss Marple has her own theories and suspicions, and it is only when the body of a sixteen year old Pamela Reeves is found dead that her presence becomes more pronounced and the authorities begin to take Marple’s skills and experience more seriously.

I honestly never tire of the cosy village mystery, and it is even more exciting when the glamour and glitz of the city and the world of show business finds its way into the old fashioned and established world of respectability and values held so highly by the aristocracy of English villagers. This is definitely Miss Marple at her best!

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