At Bertram's Hotel
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Brian Russell|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|15 November 1965|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Star Over Bethlehem and other stories|
|Followed by||Third Girl|
At Bertram's Hotel is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 15 November 1965 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50. It features the detective Miss Marple.
Jane Marple, the elderly amateur sleuth, takes a holiday at London's Bertram's Hotel, a place of which she has fond memories from her youth. The establishment has retained a mixed Edwardian and Victorian atmosphere, from its prim staff to its elderly patrons. In its tearoom Miss Marple encounters a wartime friend, Lady Selina Hazy, who reveals that she frequently thinks that she recognises people in the hotel only for them to turn out to be complete strangers. Miss Marple is intrigued by her fellow guests, who include the famous adventuress Bess Sedgwick, 20-year-old Elvira Blake and her legal guardian Colonel Luscombe, and a forgetful clergyman, Canon Pennyfather.
Elvira's late father bequeathed her a large sum of money, to be held in trust until she is 21. Her mother had abandoned her as a baby to pursue her career and the two are estranged. Having questioned her guardian on who would inherit her money if she were to die, Elvira hints she is planning marriage. She also claims someone had once tried to poison her during her school days in Italy. Flying in secret to Ireland for the day, Elvira confides in her best friend, Bridget Melford, that she has to discover something of great importance, but is not specific.
On the same day that Elvira travelled to Ireland, Canon Pennyfather had arranged to attend a conference in Lucerne, Switzerland. However the confused cleric arrives at the airport a day late, missing his flight by a full 24 hours. He returns to Bertram's around midnight, disturbing an intruder in his bedroom. Having been knocked unconscious he awakens four days later in a house several hours from London, but near the location of a recent robbery of the Irish Mail train. A family had found him on the side of the road and taken him in. Pennyfather is able to recall nothing since taking the taxi to the airport, yet some witnesses of the robbery state they saw somebody resembling the canon. Miss Marple also witnessed him departing his hotel room at 3 am, three hours after he was assaulted, and a few hours before the robbery.
It becomes clear that Bess Sedgwick had distanced herself from her child, Elvira, because she did not consider herself a suitable mother. However, they do share a taste in men, being lovers of the same man, the French/Polish/Italian racing driver, Ladislaus Malinowski. A car similar to one driven by Malinowski seems to be connected to the robbery of the Irish Mail, and to several other recent robberies.
Miss Marple overhears Bess Sedgwick talking with the hotel commissionaire, Michael "Micky" Gorman. It turns out they had once been married in Ireland. At the time, Gorman had told her the wedding was just a game and not a legal marriage. But their union was genuine, and her four subsequent marriages were unwittingly bigamous. Elvira also overhears this, and is concerned 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 it is not revealed if she flew back to England or took a train, perhaps the Irish Mail train, in which case she could have been a witness to, or even a perpetrator of, the robbery. Outside the fogbound hotel two shots ring out, followed by screams. Elvira Blake is discovered next to the corpse of the Commissionaire, Gorman. The young woman claims he has been shot dead after he had run in front of her to shield her from the gunfire. The gun is Malinowski's.
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 realises that Miss Marple notices things – things in human nature that provide important clues. After Pennyfather is found, the three of them attempt an experiment. Miss Marple persuades the clergyman to re-enact his likely movements from the point when she believes she saw him in the hallway, movements that Pennyfather cannot recall. Whilst watching him walk down the hallway she realises it wasn't him whom she saw. Pennyfather's memory is jogged; he remembers he saw himself sitting on a chair, just before he was knocked unconscious. His doppelgänger, with his confederates, must have left the hotel with the supine canon and driven to the mail train. Pennyfeather was thereby framed for the crime.
Miss Marple confides in Inspector Davy her disappointment in Bertram's atmosphere of fakery. She acknowledges that the past cannot really be revived, although the staff are expert. Although some guests are genuine, others seem to be acting or pretending to be what they are not. Had Lady Selina been right? Were the people she recognised imposters? It dawns upon Marple and the inspector that the hotel is being used by a criminal gang. The actors pose as other people during robberies to provide alibis for their cohorts.
Davy and Miss Marple confront Bess Sedgwick as the orchestrator of these robberies, along with the hotel's owners and staff. Sedgwick confesses not only to this, but also to the murder of Michael Gorman. Making a run for it, Bess steals a car and speeds away recklessly, crashing fatally. Miss Marple is not convinced Sedgwick really killed Gorman, and believes she did so to protect the real murderer, her daughter Elvira. The young heiress had fallen in love with Ladislaus Malinowski and knew that he was primarily interested in her money, but was concerned that if Michael Gorman revealed he had been married to Bess Sedgwick it would endanger her father's legacy.
Characters in "At Bertram's Hotel"
- Jane Marple – amateur detective.
- Mr Humfries – manager of Bertram's Hotel
- Miss Gorringe – Humfries' assistant
- Rose Sheldon – a chambermaid employed at Bertram's Hotel
- Lady Selina Hazy – a 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 Hoffman – co-owner of Bertram's Hotel
- Chief-Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
- Ladislaus Malinowski – race driver, lover of both Lady Sedgwick and her daughter Elvira.
- Inspector Campbell – Scotland Yard's inspector
- Sergeant Wadell
- Canon Pennyfather
- Mrs McCrae – Canon Pennyfather's housekeeper
- Archdeacon Simmons – Canon Pennyfather's friend and houseguest
- Mr. Robinson – Recurring Christie character; financial power-player who seems to know a LOT about all aspects of banking & high-finance.
References to actual history, geography and current science
Bertram's Hotel is popularly believed to have been inspired by Brown's Hotel, in London, where Agatha Christie often stayed when visiting London. But according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Christie's model was a different Mayfair hotel, Fleming's.
Literary significance and reception
In The Guardian of 17 December 1965, Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) said that, "At Bertram's Hotel can hardly be called a major Agatha Christie, for in spite of the presence of Miss Marples (sic) 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 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 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: "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
Another production was made in 2007 by ITV with Geraldine McEwan as part of the third series of Marple, and first broadcast 23 September, that year. This latter version made many substantial changes to the plot, characters, atmosphere and the finale of the original novel:
- A number of the characters in the novel were removed from the adaptation, and included:
- Mrs McCrae
- Archdeacon Simmons
- Robert Hoffman
- Miss Gorringe
- Rose Sheldon
- Colonel Derek Luscombe
- Chief-Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
- Inspector Campbell
- Sergeant Wadell
- Mr. Robinson
- The adaptation added new ones not included in the novel:
- Inspector Larry Bird - The new Chief of Investigations, who conducts a thorough amount of work on the murders, and who slowly accepts help from Miss Marple. (Played by Stephen Mangan)
- Jane Cooper - Hotel Maid at Bertram's, who assists Miss Marple in her investigations, using her job to help gather clues and gain access to off-limit areas. She forms an attachment to Larry Bird during the case, and eventually falls in love with him towards the end.
- Tilly Rice - Hotel Maid at Bertram's, who is a close friend to Mickey Gorman, and uses what she knows to blackmail people hiding secrets.
- Brigit Milford - A close friend of Elvira Blake, who was urged by Elvira to swim in a river that neither knew was contaminated, leading to Brigit contracting Polio as a result and losing all use of her right hand, with Elvira blaming herself for this and doing what she can to look after her out of guilt.
- Hubert Curtain - Solicitor overseeing the Blake estate of Bess' late husband, and who is secretly trying to cover his tracks over embezzlement of funds from the estate, as well as his involvement in the sale of stolen artwork. (Played by Peter Davidson)
- Mutti - A German, Jewish fashion designer, who lost much during the war. He secretly is using his occupation to track down a missing Nazi officer that is on the run, aided by Bess and Malinowski. Owns several pieces of artwork that had been stolen and hidden in the hotel. (Played by Danny Webb)
- Jack Britten / Joel Britten - A pair of identical twins, who are hard to tell apart unless one looks carefully to the wrist each wears their watch on. The pair are also thieves, who use their identical appearances to fool people.
- Amelia Walker - A singer, who is also seeking to purchase some artwork at the hotel.
- In the adaptation, the main sub-plot was changed, in which the hotel is not used as a base for robberies, but instead is used to smuggle Nazis war criminals to a safe country in exchange for their stolen art treasures, like Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings, with the aid of Bess' husband airline. Both Mr Humfries and Hubert are involved in the scheme, in which the criminals are given an "American Room", and handed over stolen identities (passports), while the artwork is hung in the hotel and assumed by other guests as copies, until a buyer is found for them. Ladislaus Malinowski was changed from being a race driver, to Nazi hunter seeking them out, aided by Mutti, and Bess Sedgewick, who was a former French Resistance agent, into identifying the latest one - Herman Koch. Miss Marple confirms the trio's suspicions that he was using the identity of Canon Pennyfather (who was still away on holiday), by pointing out that he only quoted from Psalms, acted like a bumbling priest from a play with his forgetfulness, and didn't truly know which region was overseen by which cathedral. Humfries is also arrested for his part in the scheme, with the current set of artwork returned to Mutti, including one piece that Amelia Walker attempts to take with her; she had been lined up as a buyer by Hubert.
- A new sub-plot was added involving the Bittern twins, in which there had been lots of robberies in London, and during Gorman's murder, Mrs Hazy's jewels go missing. During the denouement at the end, both Marple and Cooper reveal that the pair had stolen them, both being accomplished jewel thieves, but their theft had a flaw in it - each Bittern twin wears their watch on a different wrist to the other. On the night of the murder, whilst one brother stole the jewels, the other posed as both using clip-on ties and a quick change of clothes, but forgot to switch their watch to the other wrist.
- While in the novel, Elvira's motive was tied with her engagement to Ladislaus Malinowski, his change in the adaptation led to the motive changing towards a new character - Brigit Milford. Miss Marple deduced that Elvira needed the money to be able to care for Brigit owing to the guilt she had for bringing harm to her friend, adding - "If Bridget was to enjoy any quality of life, [Elvira] would need a great deal of money". The death of Mickey Gorman, to facilitate this, remains the same, but a new addition was added to the new motive, with Tilly Rice. Gorman had told Tilly about his marriage to Bess and how they had not divorced, and coupled with seeing Elvira in a room she was not meant to be in - Room 123 - she decided to blackmail her. Elvira could not afford this, and so strangled her on the hotel rooftop in clothing similar to both herself and her mother, while confusing the police about whether her murder was the first. In the denouement though, Marple correctly deduces that Tilly's death was always planned after Gorman's, since the hair under the hat Elvira used on her was messy, meaning her death was not as well planned as Gorman's.
- The murder of Gorman by shooting, was changed to coincide with the change of motive. In the adaptation, Gorman is killed while attempting to protect Elvira from a sniper, supposedly thinking she was Bess owing to the mother and daughter wearing the same clothing, only to be shot in the back by the sniper, forcing Elvira to defend herself by shooting at the sniper. When Inspector Bird and one of the twins find the sniper's room - 123 - and break in, they find it empty, and soon learn the bolt for the door was not screwed in. However, in the denouement, Miss Marple reveals that Gorman's death was always intended, and reveals that Elvira and Brigit had performed the deed and committed the same mistake as the Bittern twins, revealing what happened that night:
- Bridget is given a new room at Elvira's request to the hotel, with a bath. On the night of the murder, she turned on the taps and let the bath overflow, with the water fusing the electrics of the dining room below, forcing the diners to another room with full view of the street, thus creating an audience for the upcoming murder.
- Briget slipped out at this point, dressed as Elvira (wearing a black hat and veil) out of sight, and slipped round to the front entrance, approaching the hotel in full view.
- Elvira in room 123, fires at her feet with a rifle from the window-sill - Miss Marple points out she is an excellent shot, and if Bess was meant to be murdered, the killer wouldn't have missed - and when Gorman ran out to protect Briget, she shot him. After that was done, she left the room, making certain that the room was locked from the outside.
- Bridget, at this point, then took out an automatic pistol and fired at the window with her left hand, being careful to miss.
- Elvira quickly disguised herself as a maid, and slipped down the hotel's back stairs during the chaos of the shooting, and into an underground passage to the street. She then changes into the same clothes as Bridget. Briget, who has taken cover behind a pillar box near the stairs to the passage, where she cannot be seen but still fires the automatic to make it appear as if there still is someone there, quickly hands over the gun to Elvira, before running safely away, out of sight.
- Elvira then emerges, shoots a few more times, and then takes off her veil to make it look as if she was there all the time. Miss Marple points out that at this point, Elvira was firing with her right hand, revealing there had been two people out front at the time.
- Although Lady Bess tries to take the blame during the denouement, in the adaptation she does not run away in her car, and does not die in a car accident. Miss Marple reveals, in a slight addition by the adaptation, that Elvira had sent her death threats, and Bess had found out who did them. Knowing what her daughter had done, she attempted to place the blame of the death threats and the murders, on Hubert Curtain, planting one threatening note in his desk, but Miss Marple knew that he was not involved.
- 1965, Collins Crime Club (London), 15 November 1965, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1966, Dodd, Mead and Company (New York), 1966, Hardcover, 272 pp
- 1967, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 180 pp
- 1967, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), 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), 6 March 2006, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720858-8
The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman's Own 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 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.
- Czech: V hotelu Bertram (At Bertram's Hotel)
- Dutch: In hotel Bertram (At Bertram's Hotel)
- Estonian: Bertrami hotellis (At Bertram's Hotel)
- Finnish: Bertramin hotellissa (At Bertram's Hotel)
- German: Bertrams Hotel (Bertram's Hotel)
- Greek: Ξενοδοχείο Μπέρτραμ (Hotel Bertram)
- Japanese: バートラムホテルにて（baatoramu hoteru nite) (At Bertram's Hotel)
- Norwegian: Den forsvunne domprost (The missing dean)
- Portuguese (Brazil): O Caso do Hotel Bertram (The Bertram's Hotel Case)
- Portuguese (Portugal): Mistério em Hotel de Luxo (Luxury Hotel Mystery)
- Slovak: V hoteli Bertram (At Bertram's Hotel), Hotel Bertram (Bertram's Hotel)
- Spanish: En el Hotel Bertram (At Bertram's Hotel)
- Turkish: Cinayetler Oteli (The hotel of Murders)
- Hungarian: A Bertram szálló (The Bertram's Hotel)
- "Existential Ennui: Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s". existentialennui.blogspot.co.uk.
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- "American Tribute to Agatha Christie". insightbb.com.
- Morgan, Janet (October 2008). "Christie, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa (1890–1976)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (subscription required). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- "Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden - English Version". bertramshotel.com.
- The Guardian. 17 December 1965 (p. 9).
- The Observer 12 December 1965 (p. 31)
- Toronto Daily Star, 8 January 1966 (p. 42)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 188). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- At Bertram's Hotel at the official Agatha Christie website
- Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden in Copenhagen
- At Bertram's Hotel (1987) at the Internet Movie Database
- Marple: At Bertram's Hotel (2007) at the Internet Movie Database