The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
When I was young, probably in the seventh or eighth grade, I saw one of Agatha Christie’s novels in movie format (for the life of me, I cannot remember which). I enjoyed it enough that I picked up copies of a few of her books at a booksale, but never got around to reading any of them. Recently, looking through my shelves for something to read, I found The Body in the Library.
I suspect that for most of my generation, the classic who-dunnit books no longer hold much interest, as we are so used to crime shows and mystery theater that wrap up stories so concisely and beautifully. Actually sitting down and reading a mystery novel in which there is no sex or steamy relationship gossip between the detectives is a far different experience from sitting down to this week’s episode of Criminal Minds, Elementary, or the like. Reading Christie’s novels is really more a practice in patience, for we do not see the truth until the very end. There are no clips of the murder taking place, no visuals or scenes to help us figure out the answer.
Bolstered by my identity as a crime show fan, I began the novel expecting to be able to figure it out before the last chapter. I had forgotten, of course, that Christie’s endings are almost always over-the-top ridiculous and unlikely scenarios. The murderer was so obvious, but his alibi so solid that you began to doubt his guilt and the means were so roundabout that I found myself completely confused before the end.
The basic plot is this: Colonel and Mrs. Bantry are woken up one morning by their very anxious maid, informing them that a dead body has been found in their library. While the colonel calls in the police (Col. Melchett and Inspector Slack), Mrs. Bantry calls her friend, Jane Marple, a local sleuth that seems to figure out the most complex crimes long before the police can work it out themselves. Finding that the young girl, identified by her cousin as a Miss Ruby Keene, was an entertainer at a local hotel (think Penny in Dirty Dancing, only nowhere near as intelligent or talented), Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry head to the hotel as guests to do sleuthing of their own while the police do their own detective work. Eventually, the former head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry, gets involved. With a great deal of digging around on the part of all four detectives (and after yet body is discovered and a third murder attempted), it is—of course—Miss Marple who puts the pieces together and clears the name of the framed suspect, finding the real criminals right under their noses.
The writing, of course, is quite good—Agatha Christie was an internationally renown writer for a reason (for she hails from the age when you actually had to be a good writer to be internationally renown… ahem, Stephanie Meyer). The dialect puts you in the time and you can easily imagine the voices and picture the characters. The scenes are described well with just enough left to the imagination that you can envision them in your head.
In spite of the high quality of the book, I did find myself becoming impatient. I wanted to know the ending without having to do the work—I actually considered finding a synopsis online, I was so eager to just know the answer! But this, I think, is the genius of Christie’s writing. At the time it was written (1942), there was no way of finding out the spoilers without simply turning to the last chapter. For those purists who do not read the last chapter first, the idea is to read through as quickly as possible, trying to piece the clues together and figure it out before Miss Marple shows everyone the truth.
About Miss Marple, I do find her character absurdly impossible, but in the same way that Sherlock Holmes (to whom she is compared by Sir Henry) is both absurd and impossible (although, I cannot imagine a modern version of a movie where Miss Marple is anywhere near as attractive as Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller). She is, in her own way, a compellingly simple yet profound character. I rather liked her a lot and perhaps should find more “Miss Marple Murder Mysteries.”
I think I’ll give The Body in the Library a solid 3.5 stars—a high praise. I probably won’t read it again, but I definitely recommend it for the lover of detective stories. What fun!
Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars: Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.