At Bertram's Hotel
is a work of detective fiction
Detective fiction is a sub-genre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator , either professional or amateur, investigates a crime, often murder.-In ancient literature:...
by Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections , and her successful West End plays.According to...
and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club
The Collins Crime Club was an imprint of UK book publishers William Collins & Co Ltd and ran from May 6, 1930 to April 1994. Customers registered their name and address with the club and were sent a newsletter every three months which advised them of the latest books which had been or were to be...
on 15 November 1965
The year 1965 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-New books:*Lloyd Alexander - The Black Cauldron*J. G. Ballard - The Drought*Ray Bradbury - The Vintage Bradbury*John Brunner...
and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company
Dodd, Mead and Company was one of the pioneer publishing houses of the United States, based in New York City. Under several names, the firm operated from 1839 until 1990. Its history properly began in 1870, with the retirement of its founder, Moses Woodruff Dodd. Control passed to his son Frank...
the following year. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50. It features the detective
A detective is an investigator, either a member of a police agency or a private person. The latter may be known as private investigators or "private eyes"...
Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, is a fictional character appearing in twelve of Agatha Christie's crime novels and in twenty short stories. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur detective. She is one of the most famous...
Jane Marple, the elderly amateur sleuth, takes a holiday at Bertram's hotel in London, to re-live her happy memories of staying there during her youth. The hotel is famous for fully preserving its Edwardian atmosphere even into the 1960s, from the proper staff to the elderly guests who frequent the tearoom. Miss Marple first sees Lady Selina Hazy, a childhood friend. Lady Hazy says she often thinks she recognizes people in the hotel but they turn out to be strangers. Miss Marple is intrigued by the other guests in the tearoom, especially a famous adventuress Bess Sedgwick, a young woman Elvira Blake and her guardian Colonel Luscombe, and a forgetful clergyman Canon Pennyfather.
Elvira's late father left her a lot of money, but it's all held in trust until she, not yet 20, turns 21. Her mother, Bess Sedgwick, had abandoned her as a toddler to become a famous star and adventurer, and has not kept in touch. Elvira suddenly starts asking her guardians who would inherit her money if she dies, and hints that she may be planning marriage. She also says somebody had tried to poison her during her school days in Italy. She secretly flies to Ireland for 24 hours, telling her best friend only that she has to find out something that's a matter of life and death.
Canon Pennyfather is supposed to fly to Switzerland the same day, also for 24 hours, to attend a religious conference in Lucerne. But he's so forgetful he doesn't arrive at the airport until the following evening, by which time the conference is over. He returns to the hotel around midnight, and upon entering his room, sees something very surprising and is immediately knocked on the head. He wakes up four days later in a house several hours from London but near the location where the Irish Mail train was robbed three days earlier. A family had found him on the side of the road and took him in, but he remembers nothing since taking the taxi to the airport. Yet some witnesses at the train robbery say they saw somebody who looked like him at the scene. Miss Marple also saw him leaving his hotel room at 3 am, three hours after he was knocked on the head, and a few hours before the robbery.
It turns out that Lady Sedgwick had hidden herself from Elvira because she did not consider herself a suitable mother given her lifestyle. Both Sedgwick and Elvira are lovers of the same man, the race car driver Ladislaus Malinowski. However, both women claim that Elvira doesn't know him. But Miss Marple knows that she does, because she has seen Elvira and Malinowski together at a restaurant. She thinks Malinowski is an unsuitable man for Elvira, and wishes she could save her from getting involved with him. Meanwhile, a car similar to Malinowski's was seen at the train robbery, and at several other train robberies. Similar but not identical: the licence plates were off by one digit.
Miss Marple overhears Bess Sedgwick talking with the hotel comissionaire Micky Gorman. It turns out they had earlier been married in Ireland. At the time Gorman had told her the wedding was just a game and not a legal marriage. But in fact it was a real marriage, and so her four subsequent marriages were unwittingly bigamous. Elvira also overhears this, and worries it might invalidate her inheritance because she is the daughter of one of Sedgwick's later husbands. She had travelled to Ireland to verify the marriage, but we don't know whether she flew back to England or took a train, perhaps the Irish Mail train, so she could have been a witness or perpetrator in the robbery.
Police Chief Inspector "Father" Davy, along with Inspector Campbell, has been involved in the mystery since Pennyfather's disappearance. He interviews everybody in the hotel, and quickly realizes that Miss Marple notices things—things in human nature that provide important clues. After Pennyfather is found, the three of them try an experiment. Miss Marple and Pennyfather re-enact their actions from when she saw him in the hallway (although he doesn't remember it). She realizes it wasn't him she saw: the walk was different. Pennyfather then remembers what surprised him when he entered his room: he saw himself
sitting on a chair, just before he was knocked on the head. His Doppelganger, with his confederates, left the hotel (when Miss Marple saw him), drove the unconscious Pennyfather to the mail train, made himself visible during the robbery so that people would mistake him for Pennyfather, and then left Pennyfather on the side of the road.
Elvira comes to the hotel one foggy night, and somebody shoots at her in the street. Commissionaire Gorman runs in front of her to shield her, and is shot dead. The gun is Malinowski's.
Miss Marple tells Inspector Davy that she was disappointed to find out that much of the hotel's Edwardian atmosphere is false. Some of the guests are genuine, but others are actors pretending to be other people. So Lady Hazy wasn't wrong after all; the people she mistakenly recognized were actors pretending to be people she knew. Why a hotel would have so many actors is baffling, until the sleuths realize that the hotel is the center of a criminal ring. The actors pose as other people during robberies in order to make it look like their namesakes were at places they weren't.
"Father" Davy and Miss Marple confront Bess Sedgwick as the orchestrator of these robberies, along with the hotel's owners and staff. Sedgwick confesses, and also admits to killing Gorman. She then drives away recklessly and voluntarily commits suicide, although her racing may let it look like an accident. But it is later revealed that Elvira herself shot Gorman, and that her mother falsely confessed to the shooting in order to save her daughter.
The originality of this novel is that we not only have to guess who committed the murder but what the crime was. Canon Pennyfather's disappearance is the central mystery, and the reader is led to assume it must be murder, but it turns out to be just a disappearance. Then it appears that somebody shoots at Elvira and accidentally kills Gorman, but actually it's Elvira shooting Gorman.
Characters in "At Bertram's Hotel"
- Jane Marple - guest at the hotel, friend of Selina Hazy and Canon Pennyfather, and amateur detective.
- Mr Humfries - the manager of Bertram's Hotel
- Miss Gorringe - Mr Humfries' assistant
- Rose Sheldon - a chambermaid employed at Bertram's Hotel
- Lady Selina Hazy - guest at the hotel
- The Honourable Elvira Blake - guest at the hotel
- Bess, Lady Sedgwick - Elvira's mother
- Colonel Derek Luscombe - Elvira's guardian
- Michael "Micky" Gorman - Lady Sedgwick's estranged husband and commissionaire at Bertram's Hotel
- Robert - co-owner of Bertram's Hotel
- Chief-Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
- Ladislaus Malinowski, race driver, lover of both Bess Sedgwick and her daughter Elvira
- Inspector Campbell
- Sergeant Wadell
- Canon Pennyfather
- Mrs McCrae - Canon Pennyfather's housekeeper
- Archdeacon Simmons - Canon Pennyfather's friend and houseguest
Literary significance and reception
In The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...
of 17 December 1965, Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox
Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts.- Life :...
) said that, "At Bertram's Hotel
can hardly be called a major Agatha Christie, for in spite of the presence of Miss Marples (sic
Sic—generally inside square brackets, [sic], and occasionally parentheses, —when added just after a quote or reprinted text, indicates the passage appears exactly as in the original source...
) the denouement is really too far-fetched. But does the plot matter so much with Mrs Christie? What does matter is that one just can't put any book of hers down."
Maurice Richardson in The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...
of 12 December 1965 said, "A.C. is seldom at her best when she goes thrillerish on you. This one is a bit wild and far-fetched, but it's got plenty of that phenomenal zest and makes a reasonably snug read."
Robert Weaver in the Toronto Daily Star
The Toronto Star is Canada's highest-circulation newspaper, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Its print edition is distributed almost entirely within the province of Ontario...
of 8 January 1966 said, "At Bertram's Hotel
is vintage Agatha Christie: an ingenious mystery that triumphantly gets away with what in lesser hands would be the most outrageous coincidences."
Robert Barnard is an English crime writer, critic and lecturer.- Life and work :Born in Essex, Barnard was educated at the Colchester Royal Grammar School and at Balliol College in Oxford....
: "The plot is rather creaky, as in most of the late ones, but the hotel atmosphere is very well conveyed and used. Elvira Blake is one of the best observed of the many young people in late Christie. Note the reflections in chapter 5 in the novel on the changed look of elderly people, showing that the sharp eye had not dimmed, even if the narrative grasp was becoming shaky."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A 1987 adaptation
Miss Marple is a British television series based on the Miss Marple murder mystery novels by Agatha Christie. It starred Joan Hickson in the title role, and aired from 1984 to 1992. All twelve original Miss Marple Christie novels have been dramatised. The screenplays were written by T. R...
was made by the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...
and starred Joan Hickson in the title role as Miss Marple. Another production was made in 2007 by ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...
with Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan is an English actor with a diverse history in theatre, film, and television. From 2004 to 2009 she appeared as Miss Marple, the Agatha Christie sleuth, for the series Marple.-Background:...
as part of the third series of Marple
Marple is a British television series based on the Miss Marple and other murder mystery novels by Agatha Christie. It is also known as Agatha Christie's Marple. The title character was played by Geraldine McEwan from the first to third series, until her retirement from the role. She was replaced...
, and first broadcast 23 September that year. This latter version made many substantial changes to the plot, characters, and atmosphere of the book.
- 1965, Collins Crime Club (London), November 15, 1965, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1966, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1966, Hardcover, 272 pp
- 1967, Pocket Books
Pocket Books is a division of Simon & Schuster that primarily publishes paperback books.- History :Pocket produced the first mass-market, pocket-sized paperback books in America in early 1939 and revolutionized the publishing industry...
(New York), Paperback, 180 pp
- 1967, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins
HarperCollins is a publishing company owned by News Corporation. It is the combination of the publishers William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd, a British company, and Harper & Row, an American company, itself the result of an earlier merger of Harper & Brothers and Row, Peterson & Company. The worldwide...
), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1972, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 253 pp
- 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 253 pp
- 2006, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1965 UK first edition), March 6, 2006, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720858-8
The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman's Own
Woman's Own is a British lifestyle magazine aimed at women.Woman's Own was first published in 1932. It is one of the UK's most famous women's magazines and is published by IPC Media....
in five abridged instalments from 20 November - 18 December 1965 illustrated with specially posed photographic layouts by Abis Sida Stribley.
In the US the novel was serialised in Good Housekeeping
Good Housekeeping is a women's magazine owned by the Hearst Corporation, featuring articles about women's interests, product testing by The Good Housekeeping Institute, recipes, diet, health as well as literary articles. It is well known for the "Good Housekeeping Seal," popularly known as the...
magazine in two instalments from March (Volume 162, Number 3) to April 1966 (Volume 162, Number 4) with illustrations by Sanford Kossin and a photograph by James Viles.