The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: USA: Dodd Mead, February 1942; UK: Collins, May 1942

My review

One of Christie’s most accomplished parodies of a convention of the genre: the body in the library. The corpse, however, is that of a very tarty young woman, Ruby Keene (née Rosie Legge), and the library is that of the highly respectable stick-in-the-mud Colonel Bantry. Although the telling is staid and sober, there is plenty of detective interest as the police investigate movements and motives of the guests at the Majestic Hotel; the unravelling of an ingenious yarn is done by Miss Marple, relying on her feminine knowledge of nails and teeth. The reader will almost certainly spot the identity of one of the murderers, but not of the other.

Blurb (UK)

Colonel and Mrs. Bantry had always believed that “a body in the library” only happened in books—until the day when a body was found in their own library!  Whose body was it?  Who placed it there?  Why should it be found in the library of Gossington Hall?  That gentle elderly spinster, Miss Marple (whom readers of Agatha Christie will remember) was faced with all these questions.  Following the trail from the quiet village of St. Mary Mead to a fashionable seaside hotel, she eventually found the answer.   How did she mange it?  Well, in her own words: “It reminded me of Tommy Bond and our new schoolmistress.  She went to wind up the clock and a frog jumped out!”

Blurb (US)

Who was the mysterious girl found strangled in the Colonel’s library?  Village tongues clattered with the news, especially when it was learned that she was extremely attractive.  And the Colonel, of all people!  Did that staid, rather stuffy individual have a shady past?

One of the village gossips refused to accept this idle chatter.  Miss Marple, spinster, had a few ideas of her own.  There was something about that murdered lass that just didn’t look right.

Slowly facts come to light.  A dancer at a nearby health resort had disappeared.  A charred body was found in a burnt automobile.  A rich widower had changed his will in favour of a cheap little snip one-third his age.  As readers of Murder at the Vicarage will recall, Miss Marple knew a great deal about human nature.  Applying this knowledge, she came upon a solution that is utterly remarkable and unusual.  Here is a Christie detective novel that will leave you gasping, and admiring as never before the technique of one of the world’s outstanding mystery writers.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 16th May 1942): Some devoted souls may sigh for Hercule Poirot, but there are bound to be others who will be glad to find his place taken in the “new Agatha Christie” by Miss Marple.  What this relief signifies is that professional detectives are no match for the elderly spinsters (not all so elderly), with some training in looking under the antimacassar, who are now very much in fashion.  Even while making full allowance for this we find it hard not to be impressed by old-maid logic.  When Miss Marple says, “The dress was all wrong,” she is plainly observing facts hidden from the masculine eye—facts which are of a very lively interest.  The Body in the Library should turn Hendon College co-educational.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 13th June 1942): Mrs. Christie is so hard-working that she must occasionally take an afternoon off.  The Body in the Library is inferior to her best writing.  The basis of the plot is ingenious enough, but there is hardly enough material to bulk out a full-length novel.  Eking out what there is, chapter by chapter, Mrs. Christie seems to lose heart herself over the length of the proceedings.  The body was found in the library of a respectable county colonel by the housemaid one morning; the body was female, pretty, strangled.  That looks all right to us and the police, but it did not look all right to Miss Marple.  Her detective principle is that all criminals are childish and she has only to find the correct analogy with one of the naughtier village schoolchildren to identify a murderer offhand.  I prefer Poirot.

New Yorker (28th February 1942, 50w): Miss Marple is the amateur sleuth in this story by a prolific author who never misses.

Books (Will Cuppy, 1st March 1942, 300w): When the time comes to release a sensational twist near the end, as she is expected to do in every major story, Mrs. Christie delivers with a pronounced impact, thus adding one more to her list of undoubted successes.  How is it done?  Mostly, we’d say, by guarding a special kind of secret better than anyone else in the business.  We didn’t believe a word of it, ourself, yet we were fascinated by the whole thing in no uncertain manner.  Take it by and large, this is the easiest to read among the current grist and the slickest puzzler you could want.

NY Times (Kay Irvin, 1st March 1942, 260w): Although this is not the best of Agatha Christie’s plots, the story is still in the upper brackets of excellence.  And the character work, with Miss Marple and the Bantrys, is particularly fetching.

Time (2nd March 1942, 40w): Genuine old-crusted Christie.

Sat R of Lit (7th March 1942, 40w): Quiet little spinster who knows great deal about human nature uses feminine intuition and common sense to solve double slaying.  Standard brand.

Spectator (John Fairfield, 7th August 1942, 170w): The solution seems so highly improbable that the reader is left with a very strong feeling that Miss Marple has succeeded in pinning the killings on the wrong people and that the dear old owner of the library ought to swing.

John O’London’s Weekly: Mrs. Christie is an adept at surprise endings and this is certainly a surprise.  She has one of the nicest of detectives, Miss Marple, to solve the mystery.

The Listener: An entertaining mystery with Miss Marple as the oracle.

Birmingham Post: One of the most ingeniously contrived of all her murder stories.

Tatler: An excellent Christie.

Observer: Ingenious, of course.