At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

July’s theme for Read Christie 2022 is ‘a story which takes place on holiday’; I didn’t take part in last month’s read as I’d already read the suggested title (Murder in Mesopotamia), but decided to join in this month with At Bertram’s Hotel.

This late Christie novel, first published in 1965, begins with Miss Marple arriving for a two-week stay at Bertram’s Hotel in London courtesy of her nephew who thought she might like to get away from the village of St Mary Mead for a while. The hotel is one that Miss Marple remembers fondly from her youth and, having heard that it has changed very little over the years, she is looking forward to staying there again. However, it turns out not to be quite the relaxing break she expected; first an elderly hotel guest, Canon Pennyfather, goes missing, then Miss Marple’s attention is drawn to the unusual behaviour of two more guests – the notorious Lady Sedgwick and her estranged teenage daughter, Elvira. It seems that something is not quite right about Bertram’s Hotel, but can Miss Marple help the police to discover exactly what is going on?

I enjoyed this book, although I don’t think it’s one of Christie’s best. There’s no central mystery to be solved – there’s the murder of a minor character which takes place late in the novel, but otherwise we hear about crimes that have happened ‘off the page’ rather than witnessing them ourselves. The sequence of events surrounding the disappearance of the absentminded Canon Pennyfather was fascinating, but again more of a subplot than the main focus of the story. What we do get is a growing sense of unease and a feeling that something is wrong without knowing precisely what it is.

I loved the portrayal of Bertram’s Hotel, which at first appears to be a quaint, old-fashioned establishment that has deliberately tried to preserve its Edwardian charm with the sort of atmosphere, furnishings and food that will appeal to a certain age and class of guest. As the story progresses, Miss Marple’s pleasure at finding the hotel just as she remembered it turns gradually to disappointment as she discovers that you can never really go back and that things don’t stay the same forever, no matter how much you want them to.

Sadly, Miss Marple herself doesn’t have a very big role to play in this novel. Chief Inspector Davy – known as ‘Father’ because he’s close to retirement age – is the person responsible for carrying out the investigations and we see more of him than we do of Miss Marple. However, as usual, she is the one who provides the vital clues and observations that enable the crimes to be solved and the culprits to be caught.

August’s Read Christie theme is a book ‘set in a hot climate’, if anyone wants to join in!

This is book 8/20 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

17 thoughts on “At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Christie is always an occasional impulse read so I wouldn’t join in a challenge like this or necessarily seek it out. But I am intrigued as, having stayed at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate – which still retains some of its olde worlde charm, with a ballroom and all – I’m mindful that this is where Christie stayed when she mysteriously disappeared, and before she separated from her womanising husband. I wonder if this was written before or after that incident.

    • Helen says:

      This book was published in 1965, and probably written around that time as well, I think – and Christie’s own disappearance was in the 1920s, when she was much younger. I’m sure she would have had that incident in mind when writing the book!

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Not one I’ve read (yet), as it’s 5 books ahead of where I am in the Marple series. I should be scheduling ‘They Do It With Mirrors’ before New Years (hopefully).

  3. BookerTalk says:

    The book seems rather different than the tv adaptation (the one featuring Joan Hickson) – the tv version has more of a starring role for Marple as you’d expect but I also recall that there more of a mystery about Elvira

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think I must have seen the adaptation of this one as the plot didn’t seem familiar at all. Miss Marple has such a small part in this book, it makes sense that they would have had to make it a bigger role for the TV version.

  4. mallikabooks15 says:

    I agree with this not being among her best, but it was an enjoyable one nonetheless. I loved the sound of all that scrumptious food, and the descriptions of the hotel itself. I wondered later if she based it on the Savoy. I only discovered on my last read that Canon Pennyfeather was based on Chesterton, and his famous absent mindedness

      • mallikabooks15 says:

        I found that other when I read the book last year and did a fun facts/ observations sort of post rather than a review which I’d already done previously. Apparently GKC would set off on a train, forget where he was going and then had to contact his wife to find out

  5. Lark says:

    Weird that there’s no central murder/mystery to solve in this one, and with Miss Marple not being front and center in it… I don’t think I’m going to be in a hurry to read this one.

  6. whatmeread says:

    I guess I liked this one better than you did but I can see your points, and somehow these Golden Age mystery writers don’t handle other crimes well, I feel. I’m thinking now of the Dorothy Sayers novel (can’t remember the title) where Lord Peter Wimsey behaves in ridiculous ways to get the attention of a drug addicted socialite because of a drug ring. Christie and Sayers should have stuck to murder, I think.

  7. FictionFan says:

    I agree this isn’t one of her best, but I loved Bertram’s. I never poach an egg without thinking of this book and wondering if my egg would pass Miss Marple’s critical judgement… 😉

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I loved the descriptions of Bertram’s! I doubt I would be employed as a cook there – my eggs wouldn’t be likely to meet Miss Marple’s high standards!

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