When Jane Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she's looking for at Bertram's: a restored London hotel with traditional decor, impeccable service -- and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day.
With the extinction of some stinker short stories, and one or two gems of novels, most of the Miss Marple stories hover squarely around average. Years after reading this novel, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. "At Bertram’s Hotel" avoids many of the predictable aspects of Christie’s well-worn premises, and maintains an oddly sinister undertone throughout. Ultimately, though, I can find very little to recommend it. Miss Marple does nearly no actual investigating here, and there aren’t even really any clues. I find it hard to believe she solves this one, given that it’s all divination. (There is one marvelous piece of all-encompassing misdirection, which is cleverly disguised for the entire novel.)
Christie seems a little torn here over what genre she’s writing in and most notably – as in a few of Christie’s most flawed works – the few charismatic characters far outweigh the majority, leading to an uneven reading experience. There are two potential problems with books like this: a) the murderer(s) will turn out to be someone who never stood out against the livelier characters, or b) the murderer(s) won’t be as much of a shock, since they dominated the proceedings.
"At Bertram’s Hotel" isn’t execrable, but it’s for die-hards only. I wouldn’t recommend this to a Christie novice. (Having said that, the Joan Hickson adaptation is really quite fine.)
Marple ranking: 11th of 14
This book begins very well and has atmosphere aplenty. Christie has suceeded in capturing the feel of this place and the moods of those who inhabit it. Unfortunately, the plotting doesn't quite live up to the rest of it. To my mind, Christie's best work deals with smaller, personal crimes. Stories such as this one, which deals with a series of heists, usually fall flat. At Bertram's Hotel is no exception. All the ingredients are there, but they just don't come together as well as one might hope.
This isn't a bad novel by any means, but it's far from essential Christie.
This is a poor effort in terms of plot intricacies or twists, but it remains one of my favorite Christies for its reminiscing on a world long lost.
Bertram’s is pricey, clearly beyond Marple’s meager pocketbook, but her niece picks up the tab. When her niece initially suggests a stay at Bournemouth (an old resort town on the south coast), Marple characteristically rejects that sleepy destination and states her preference for a trip to the capital instead.
Anyway, something isn’t quite right about Bertram’s. It’s too good to be true in its defiance of the march of time and progress. Of course, while Marple is thinking that something is fishy, the reader gets to indulge in Christie’s descriptions of a bygone time and place. And Christie populates her tale with charming stock characters, such as the forgetful cleric and the out-of-touch uncle. Marple is right about Bertram’s, of course, and in the end we find out what is really behind the place.
Christie acknowledges that time marches on, while simultaneously juxtaposing the old values with the new much to the detriment of the new. The yearning for the past is no surprise and certainly no impediment to enjoying the story. The biggest problem I have with this story is the insufficient amounts of Marple. She resides in the periphery of the story until about the last fifth of the book when she helps the old chief inspector (known as ‘Father’) solve the crime. Jane and Father don’t like all the changes in society, but are flinty-eyed realists. Not bad, but not first rate Christie.
Agatha Christie mysteries always provide an intriguing cast of characters that are so lively, you can picture them sitting across the table from you. The sense of place is another wonderful feature of these novels, and nowhere is that more pronounced and remarkable than in this book – At Bertram’s Hotel.
I found this to be a different kind of mystery with some interesting characteristics. The book certainly held my interest, but surprisingly not because of the plot, which I find okay. For me, this was a slower, more disjointed, and meandering plot and mystery. There are a number of places where I thought the story could have been tightened up and better focused, but it is a charming one still. What really struck me and has stayed with me is the sense of place. Bertram’s Hotel is an enigma – a place out of time. As the world has sped up and sped by, it is an oasis of old-fashioned traditions and values. It is remarkably unchanged and has become a popular spot for those people, now elderly, who knew it from years gone by, as well as tourists seeking a taste of authentic and original London. However, as we all know, time touches on everything. Bertram’s Hotel may seem unchanged on the surface, but as you peel away the layers, and peer behind the veil as it were, all is not as it once was. To remain a place suspended out of time, other things must change, and change they have. There is the core of the mystery of this book.
Only through the keen observation of Miss Marple, her notice of the minutest of details, do we get to uncover what is really going At Bertam’s Hotel. There are very sinister goings-on, but there is also a larger social and societal shift underway, one that left me with a distinct melancholy for what is sometimes lost to time, and a sadness that we cannot stop it from happening. A thought-provoking and worthy read.
Rai Aren, co-author of Secret of the Sands
Miss Marple's nephew has paid for her to spend a couple of weeks at her favourite London hotel Bertram's, which has remained marvellously unchanged despite the passing years and the always on the ball Miss Marple, who is enjoying her nostaligic journey wonders why and how this has been achieved. As always Miss Marple's curiosity and interest in others gets her involved in the emotional entanglements of others which inevitably lead to murder.
…is rather unusual. Miss Marple, apparently enjoying a few days away to relax after her last sleuthing escapade, is pleased to be able to experience life in the respectable London hotel as she did sixty years previously as a mere girl, but soon feels something isn’t quite right. Why does an old acquaintance, Selina Hazy, think she sees so many familiar faces who turn out, on closer inspection, not to be familiar at all? How is the hotel able to survive with so many guests on a pension? And where do they get such fabulous staff from? Initially these questions, voiced by various characters, seem almost irrelevant, but as the plot develops they all develop a sharp pertinence.
The opening, as you might have guessed from the above questions, is rather slow and yet somehow I feel as if I’m doing the story a disservice by noting it. The pace is certainly gentle, but it wasn’t irritating (and I’m the first to become impatient when I feel writers are dragging things out). The opening chapters felt like I was being gathered into the life of the hotel and its characters. Gradually, the relationships between the characters begin to develop a clearer shape and they become convincing (if perhaps rather one-dimensional) people. This may sound dull and I agree that it wasn’t compelling, but the interesting setting and the clear sense of time and place meant that I felt sufficiently engaged to keep reading. I was never bored.
Interestingly, the ‘action’ seems to start rather a long way through the story (although there is a robbery very early on that is dealt with in one short chapter). A forgetful man disappears. At first, no one is worried; Canon Pennyfather is the sort of chap who stands in the Church and tries to remember whether he has just given the service or is about to do so. Indeed, his worried Housekeeper soon realises that he had tried to go to the airport to catch a flight on the wrong day. But where did he go after that? After three days with no word, it seems something serious has occurred… Even then, this disappearance seems a rather slight premise for a crime novel.
And yet, by the end, when all the threads of the story came together, I realised that important things had been simmering and happening all along. I felt a real sense of satisfaction on reaching the end of the novel. There were suitably sedate twists and turns, a rather old fashioned denouement and a good level of explanation. Some readers might find the plotting a little too contrived but I really liked the way everything came together at the end.
What really surprised me was Miss Marple’s involvement in the mystery. I had understood that she was an amateur sleuth who often embarrassed local police officers by using her insight into human nature to make connections that they had missed. However, in this story she really does seem to be little more than a nosy old woman who happens to overhear and see a few intriguing incidents. The real detective is, well, the detective. Chief-Inspector Davey, to be precise (who is rather bizarrely known to other officers at Scotland Yard as ‘father’). Davey knowledgeably puts pieces of the puzzle side by side before anyone else even realises they are part of a puzzle and Miss Marple’s role is reduced almost to a Watson-esque position: she notices things but the great man puts them together.
I found this slightly disappointing, simply because it wasn’t what I’d expected. I think this may be atypical of books featuring Miss Marple but do not know for certain. However, it was interesting to follow Davey’s insights and often gently amusing to read of their conversations. Take the following:
“[Miss Marple reveals an important detail about the victim to ‘Father’. He repeats this, rather stunned at the revelation.]
‘Yes,’ said Miss Marple and added: ‘I thought it was odd at the time.’
Father looked at her for some moments.
‘Miss Marple,’ he said, ‘why haven’t you told anyone this before?’
‘Nobody asked me,’ said Miss Marple simply.”
I found the idea of the respected detective being momentarily flummoxed by an elderly lady (and her age is really emphasised in this story) mildly entertaining. Although Miss Marple did not take the leading role, the narrative often follows her actions and the way the mystery was resolved was focused on an understanding of people and their nature, rather than simply physical clues, so I think it was typical of the series in that respect.
I found this quietly enjoyable. While it wasn’t a compelling read, I liked the book more because it didn’t depend upon shocking cliffhangers and terribly detailed descriptions of violence. It all felt rather genteel (there is one moment near the end which seems rather shockingly underemphasised). I liked the sense that I had entered into another world, and not just because of the inevitable difference in social attitudes which naturally permeate a book written in 1965. The hotel and its characters were convincingly created and there was sufficient mystery to engage and keep my interest. I felt the ending was satisfying though some readers might find the style and complexity slightly irritating. I would certainly read another book by Agatha Christie and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the kind of crime writing that focuses on motives and personalities rather than forensics and embittered, lonely detectives.
This edition is a nice size to hold for reading and, at £6.99 RRP, seems reasonably priced for 320 pages, especially since one could happily reread this and enjoy noticing all the clues one may not have really focused on the first time round. That said, I’m sure it could be found much cheaper second-hand or even just online. (My copy belongs to my lovely local library!) I also liked the way the Miss Marple books were listed discreetly and chronologically on the back next to the blurb and the title of this book was printed in red. A fan of Christie could create a very nice set using these, despite the rather depressing shade of green chosen for the cover of this one.
This book was somewhat different from the other Christies I've read. Most begin with a murder, and the rest of the book is spent sorting out whodunit. When I'd reached the halfway point of this book, I realized that no one had died yet; quite unusual for Christie. Instead, much of Miss Marple's time is spent trying to determine what, if anything is wrong. Several parallel story lines converge by the end of the book at Bertram's.
The unique format makes a nice diversion for the Christie fan, though I don't think that this is one of her best, it is still solid.
While reading the bits where Miss Marple appears, I was regretting that she doesn't exist-she is a relic as much as the Hotel Bertram itself was. Pardon the irrelevancy, but I'd be interested in reading even a fan fiction of her, regardless of genre or quality! Miss Marple is witness to 2 or 3 crucial occurrences that propel Inspector Davy (Father) to fulfill the completion of bringing a criminal gang to justice, to stop an entire organisation in its tracks. But Miss Marple herself never takes center stage, she is a glorified witness, who understands what she sees. Very different beast, this book is.
I like old fashioned detective stories most when the motive for the murder is money. Thankfully here this is the case. But the murderer needs the money for her lover. This was, I think, an unnecessary addition. It makes the dated(in a good way) scenery more theatrical, and that is not so good. Take Lady Sedgwick, one of the main suspects, she doesn't to me, come across as a believable person. The way she exits the story is laughable and not convincing, plus it's oh so melodramatic. I felt nothing for her. I couldn't view her as a believable adventuress, mother, or mastermind. But maybe that's just me. I kept my focus throughout this book. No part of it was tedious because you felt that bits of the puzzle would ultimately come together. And the revelations, interceded between blurbs of Lady Sedgewick, kept coming till the very end.
Miss Jane Marple is enjoying her stay at Bertram‘s, as usual she sits quietly in a corner, knitting and sipping her tea and observing all the comings and goings. Yes, things aren’t all what they seem at this exclusive hotel. From a missing clergyman, to a young impressionable heiress, and a flamboyant woman who lives her life on the gossip pages, Miss Marple has a lot to ponder upon.
Another excellent Agatha Christie mystery story where the mystery isn’t nearly as important as the atmosphere or the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bertram's Hotel.
Read this if: you’d like to see Christie acknowledge the modern world encroaching on her country-house-cozy formula that was successful and more or less unchanged for decades. 3 stars
I hadn't realised how much the story had been modified for television, with characters left out, and others inserted. There are a number of plot changes.
The main import of the novel is that nothing at Bertram's Hotel in 1955 is as its seems: all is a facade, from the appearance of the hotel, to the people who visit it, to the people who run it. Miss Marple realises that it is a mistake to try to step back to pre-war days. In fact the Bertram's Hotel she remembers is much older than that, a memory from her childhood.
The story also illustrates Agatha Christie's conviction of the prevalence of organised crime rings that underpinned facades of normality. The police inspector who carries out the investigation into Bertram's shady dealings and the disappearance of Canon Pennyfather is an avuncular old chap who has seen it all, but he is not the same as the bouncing lad of the television production. Nor is there the romantic element that TV gave us for public consumption.
I don't think Miss Marple comes out of thebook particularly well - Christie portrays her as an old busybody who eavesdrops on people's conversations when she can. On the other hand she does recognise evil when she sees it and she demonstrates an understanding of the foibles of the elderly. For example she knows that Canon Pennyfather had mistaken the day he should be flying to Lucerne, and when he returns to Bertram's Hotel, she instantly knows he is not the person she saw descending the stairs at 3 am.
So an interesting read. Perhaps not Christie's best.
I put a spoiler warning on this post not so much because I will discuss the details of the plot but because I will discuss some of the characters in a way that will give away much of the conclusion. If you are planning to read the book, don't read any further. You have been warned.
At Bertram's Hotel is one of Dame Agatha's less outrageous novels starring Miss Marple. There is not a lot of action in this story but there is a lot of interaction between the characters which eventually leads to the highlight of the plot. So, in a way this book starts at the end and works towards the crime. It certainly would not be a Marple story if there was no crime.
As mentioned, I will not go into the details of the plot and contain my observation to the following:
1. This was one of the best Marple stories I have read. The characters were detailed and life-like and Marple did not interfere too much with the goings on at Bertram's. The structure of the book was great in that it was a mystery, but not the usual who-dunnit. I.e. Christie delivered a story that was built on the mere suggestion that something was wrong, but the actual crime was a result of the interaction of the characters, whereas usually the crime precedes this.
2. I really don't like Miss Marple. Really. Can't stand her.
3. I'm still perplexed as to how Christie's books get away with some of the most patronising, misogynist, xenophobic, judgmental attitudes without getting much more flak for it.
So, here's my main problem: The characters are mostly stereotypical. This would be fine as I'm used to Dame Agatha's casting by now, but then you get the division between the British characters, the Americans, the Irish, and the rest of the world.
The British ones are all straight-laced, except for one or two, but even these are described and treated respectfully.
The American ones are described as curiosities and are slightly mocked for their being tourists in London and for being fascinated by the quaint English things around them.
The Irish one, a decorated veteran, is a lovable rogue but also a blackmailer.
And then there is the French-Polish-Italian racing driver, who is described as someone who looks like he is up to no good and undoubtedly will be trouble to all involved with him, even though there is little to evidence this. It is purely Miss Marple's impression that he is a most unsuitable young man.
Despite the stereotyping, Bertram's Hotel is full of fabulous characters. One of my favourites - and probably one of my favourite Christie characters - is Bess Sedgwick.
"Bess Sedgwick was a name that everyone in England knew. For over thirty years now, Bess Sedgwick had been reported by the Press as doing this or that outrageous or extraordinary thing. For a good part of the war she had been a member of the French Resistance, and was said to have six notches on her gun representing dead Germans. She had flown solo across the Atlantic years ago, had ridden on horseback across Europe, and fetched up at Lake Van. She had driven racing cars, had once saved two children from a burning house, had several marriages to her credit and discredit and was said to be second-best dressed woman in Europe. It was also said that she had successfully smuggled herself aboard a nuclear submarine on its test voyage..."
I rooted for Bess all the way through the book. So, reading the ending was a huge let down. Not only in the way the story ended but also in the way that Marple, or is it Christie, at one point described Bess a "nymphomaniac" even though she wrote to say that Marple would not call her that, but would call her a woman who "is too fond of men".
And the Miss Marple's counter-part, who is just as sanctimonious as Marple, describes Bess as "wild" and destined for ruin because she will not submit to society.
I was already raging at this point when Marple finished it off with this:
“Yes,” said Miss Marple. “The children of Lucifer are often beautiful—And as we know, they flourish like the green bay tree.”
Oh, get lost, Marple.
The part that eludes me is that Dame Agatha seemed to be rather progressive for her time. There were a lot of turns in her autobiography that I would not have expected. The last thing I expected was for Christie to describe a woman as "wild" just because she was fond of racing cars, sports, and adventures, because if this truly was Christie's attitude, then she herself was beyond redemption.
So, what I am taking forward to the next Christie book is that her characters may have standards and values that are consistent within the characters (and the social mores of the time) but are not necessarily consistent with the values of the author. I'm told that this is something that can happen.