2020-10-02

Agatha Christie 100 - At Bertram's Hotel

Another outing for Miss Marple. This time she's staying at Bertram's Hotel, a fashionable, old-style hotel in London.

Miss Marple has been treated to a stay at Bertram's Hotel by her kind nephew and niece Raymond and Joan. But while she's staying there she is concerned that some things do not seem to be exactly what they look like. And when the police turn their interest towards the goings-on at the hotel, it is lucky that there is a sharp-witted old lady staying there...

As you might have noticed, I had a hard time coming up with a blurb for this novel. That's because it's very hard to say what the story is actually about. For about half the novel or so, nothing much actually happens. 

We get to know a handful of characters around the hotel in question who all do vaguely suspicious things. Then we are introduced to the police who are concerned about several robberies and other bloodless crimes that seem to be planned by some well-hidden mastermind, and their focus soon turns to Bertram's Hotel. And then suddenly (if by suddenly, you mean around two thirds through the novel), there is a murder! 

So, the pacing is fairly off in this story, at least if the reader is expecting a mystery. If instead you want to read reminiscences of how it used to be in the olden days, then this is a book for you! Mind you, it's not just a story of the good old days, Christie is careful to note that the good old days aren't really here again, not even at Bertram's, and perhaps that is for the best - at least in some respects.

Okay, but what about the murder mystery then? Well, what there is of it is fairly good. There's a short story in here that could have been interesting to read. The motive behind the murder is chilling enough and the culprit turns out to be a truly despicable person. There's some cluing as well, and also a piece of misdirection, though we've seen this very type before, so a Christie reader might well pick up on what's actually going on.

But there is mainly an awful lot of padding here. Most of the story here instead revolves around the criminal mastermind and the bloodless crimes committed by a well-organised gang, but unfortunately most of the investigations into these crimes are also carried out behind the scenes. Come the dénouement we are suddenly presented with a lot of facts that we've never been allowed to see, which makes it a lot less exciting to see the conclusions drawn by the police.

As you'll have gathered, this is a bit of a mess. There are several strong sections here, though, and it should definitely not be sorted in with abject failures like Postern of Fate. Most of the story here is at least coherent, if not at all as exciting as it should be. I'll rate this a 26 out of 100.

1966 1968 1974

As you can clearly see, the number of editions have gone down quite a lot for these later titles... (It should be perhaps be mentioned that the final cover variant here has been used over a number of pressings, some of which came in the mid 80s.) Still, no new editions for almost 40 years now. The Swedish title is more or less a direct translation of the original's - we just lost the preposition.

The first cover here is horrible. It looks like something I could draw. Meanwhile, the 1968 cover is extremely unimaginative, but still manages to be better than the previous one.

And finally there's the 1974 cover, which quite obviously is pinched from the British Fontana edition, and is just as obviously miles better than the other two covers, with its evocative focus on a woman's hand and the foggy and wet surroundings.

2 comments:

  1. It is odd - I have extremely fond memories of reading this one and I frequently enjoy the BBC4 Radio Adaptation whenever I listen to it (which is pretty often - at least once every 6 months). Still, I recognize many of the issues you point to. I will be curious to reread this and see to what extent my enjoyment of the adaptation, or perhaps its status as one of my first Christies, has maybe colored my view of the original novel which I haven't read in years.
    And yes - that 74 cover is easily better than either of the others though I am not sure it exactly sums up the book either or its themes either.

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    1. It's an interesting read, if flawed. If you still enjoy the radio adaptations, I'm sure you'll enjoy the written book as well.

      The setting is lovingly described and you really get a feel for the hotel's plushness over the course of the story.

      To me, it's just too disjointed and the book never quite settles down to what it wants to be.

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