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 finale of the original novel:
- In the novel, Bertram's Hotel is being used for gigantic robberies. In the film, it is being used to smuggle Nazis and war criminals to a safe country, and they swap their stolen treasures, like Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings. Ladislaus Malinowski is also an Nazi hunter aided by a film-created German character, Mutti, and Bess Sedgewick who was a former French Resistance agent. Canon Pennyfather's disappearance is deleted, and he is a Nazi German man really called Herman Koch.
- There is a sub-plot, in which there have been lots of robberies in London and Mrs Hazy's jewels go missing. At the end, it is revealed they were stolen by two twin jewel thiefs that don't appear in the novel.
- Elvira's motive is changed. In the novel, she is engaged to Ladislaus Malinowski, but fears he won't marry her for if she has no money. In the film she flirts with him, but her real motive rests with Bridget. It is revealed that when they were children, Elvira convinced Bridget to go swimming in a river, even though they weren't supposed to, but did not go swimming herself. Unfortunately, the water was contaminated and Bridget contracted polio, and lost all use of her right hand. Elvira had always felt guilty about this and always tried to help Bridget. It also implied that Bridget comes from a poor family, as she wears plain clothes, in contrast to Elvira's fancy clothes. Miss Marple also uses the phrase "If Bridget was to enjoy any quality of life, [Elvira] would need a great deal of money".
- Gormon also tells one of the maids in the hotel, Tilly Rice about his and Bess's long-forgotten marriage, who blackmails Elvira with the numbers 123, and is strangled by her on the roof, adding another murder.
- The shooting is dramatically changed. In the novel, Elvira hides in the fog, fires a shot, screams, Gormon rushes up to her, gets in the way and she shoots him dead. In the film, Bridget overflows her bath to fuse the electrics of the dining room, so that the diners are moved to another room with full view of the street. Bridget then approaches the hotel in full view, wearing a black hat and veil. Elvira fires at her feet with a rifle from a room window-sill in a hotel and when Gorman runs out, she shoots him. Bridget then takes out an automatic and fires at the window, being careful to miss. Elvira then leaves the room, locking the door from the outside and runs to the other side of the road, underground in some hidden routes and corners disguised as a maid, She changes into the same clothes as Bridget (who has taken cover in an alleyway behind a pillar box, where she cannot be seen, but still fires the automatic to make it appear as if there still is someone there). Elvira takes the automatic, Bridget runs safely away, out of sight, Elvira takes off her veil and comes into the road with her face revealed to make it look as if she was there all the time and fires again at the non-existent sniper. Miss Marple deduces what really happened because she noticed that "Elvira" was originally firing with her left hand and then her right. This was because Bridget has no use of her right hand and fired with her left. However, Elvira did not notice this and when she took over she fired with her right hand.
- Although Lady Bess tries to take the blame, she does not run away in her car, and does not die in a car accident.
- Miss Marple is aided by a maid in the hotel called Jane Cooper who has heard about her from her cousin who was in service with Miss Marple's friend, Mrs Dolly Bantry (The Thirteen Problems, The Body in the Library, The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side, and Sleeping Murder). Jane admires Miss Marple, looks up to her and becomes a real friend to her. At the end of the film, Jane leaves Bertrams, joins the police-detectives and falls in love with the chief of the investigation, Inspector Larry Bird.
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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