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.