|Title:||At Bertram’s Hotel|
|Publisher:||Harper Collins (2002)|
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is an amateur detective whose quiet life in the little village of St. Mary Mead once again takes an exciting turn when her niece suggests a holiday and Jane Marple expresses an interest in a popular London hotel. As a little girl she remembers visiting the old-fashioned and deeply nostalgic comfort of Bertram’s Hotel with an aunt and uncle. Unlike many places in London after the war, Bertram’s is still standing and remains as atmospheric and charming as it ever did. Frequented by the English and foreign elite the hotel is famous for its quaint décor, serving tea and muffins and the feeling of having time stand still in its parlors and next to its roaring fires.
During Miss Marple’s stay several high profile guests take center stage in this slow burn crime story. Unlike many of Christie’s novels, At Bertram’s Hotel takes on a slightly different narrative structure, and Jane Marple plays a rather small but still important role. The real stars of this show however are the hotel itself, and Chief Inspector Davy whose suspicions regarding Bertram’s are made prominent when an absent-minded guest goes missing and he is employed to question the staff and remaining guests of the respected establishment in order to find the missing man.
Canon Pennyfather is an elderly theology scholar who is prone to forgetting things. On his way to a conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, he misses his flight and fails to return to his hotel, Bertram’s. This is when Inspector Davy appears on the scene and begins investigating the current guests that include a racing driver named Ladislaus Malinowksi, a Colonel Luscombe and his young ward Elvira Blake, Blake’s mother Lady Bess Sedgewick and a number of cackling old dames with lots of money and an elitist view. As Davy becomes immersed in the guest’s stories, the number of entanglements increase and a sense of foreboding settles over the hotel.
Whilst out on a shopping trip one day Miss Marple happens upon the young Elvira Blake and the racing driver Ladislaus. Later on she will see the same man with Lady Sedgewick whose relationship with her daughter is fraught with it’s own complications. In the meantime London is being ravaged by a series of crimes including a train robbery and no one has yet to be arrested. Snippets of conversation and odd meetings that may seem out of place are in fact not and the reader starts to sense the uneasiness of everything in and around Bertram’s.
As Jane Marple takes a back-seat in this drama, Inspector Davy is the hero who feels the grand hotel is a little too good to be true. The staff are a little too perfect and the outside world seems massively distant from the goings on inside the hotel. One becomes almost complacent listening to Miss Gorringe, the receptionist, gossiping and to Mr Humphries the manager and his consistent smarminess. It is also relatively easy to get all caught up in the dramatic lives of the patrons and the staff of this little slice of a pre-war era London that has managed to completely bypass the modern world.
Despite Marple being a minor character this is definitely one of Christie’s most accomplished works. Though her characters are somewhat dramatic and little typecast it is also noteworthy that her female characters are wildly independent and her somewhat liberal views are clearly expressed. A hugely enjoyable amble along the streets of a London that is both gloriously British and traditional, as well as enticingly dark leading right to the back doors of the criminal underworld.