At Bertram's Hotel
Dust-jacket illustration of first UK edition
|Cover artist||Brian Russell|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|15 November 1965|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 (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.
Miss Marple takes a two-week vacation in London, at Bertram's Hotel, where she stayed in her youth. The hotel has a personality of its own, and a niche clientele of important church people, older women who lived through the Edwardian age, and girls looking for a safe place to stay in London. Miss Marple enjoys her trips around London, and learns that she cannot go back, life moves forward. She witnesses the complex lives of an estranged mother and daughter and as always works with the police to solve crimes.
Reviews at the time of publication considered the denouement too far-fetched, but that it has "phenomenal zest and makes a reasonably snug read." Another reviewer called it "an ingenious mystery" reliant on Christie's skillful writing style. A review in 1990 found the plot "creaky" but praised the "hotel atmosphere" which "is very well conveyed and used." The character Elvira Blake was drawn well, and the careful description of the way older people look in 1965 compared to earlier eras, showed that Christie's "sharp eye had not dimmed".
Miss Marple is taking a two-week vacation in London, at Bertram's Hotel, courtesy of her nephew Raymond West. In her youth, she had stayed at this hotel. Since the war, the hotel has been renovated to create a distinct Edwardian era atmosphere with the best of modern conveniences and the best staff. Miss Marple encounters a friend taking tea, Lady Selina Hazy. Selina is on the lookout for friends, yet often mistakes people who look like her old friends. Miss Marple sees the famous adventuress Bess Sedgwick, young and beautiful Elvira Blake and her legal guardian Colonel Luscombe, and she meets the forgetful clergyman, Canon Pennyfather. American tourists consider the hotel as really English. She sees race driver Ladislaus Malinowski stop at the desk, and several times notices his car. She sees him with Elvira Blake.
Elvira will inherit money from her father when she turns 21, an age she has not yet reached. Her mother is alive, but estranged by choice from Elvira. Elvira seeks to learn the size of her inheritance and who gets it if she dies. Lawyer Richard Egerton, one of her trustees, tells her about the great wealth awaiting her. She works a scheme with her friend Bridget to gain money to fly to Ireland to find some unspecified information, and goes there. It is unclear if she returns by train or by air.
On the same day that Elvira travels to Ireland, Canon Pennyfather is to attend a conference in Lucerne. He fails to go to the airport the day before, going on the day of the conference instead, with a now useless airline ticket. He returns to Bertram's around midnight, disturbing intruders in his bedroom. He awakens four days later in a house far from London, and near the location of a recent overnight robbery of the Irish Mail train. He recuperates with a family unknown to him. His concussion blocks his memory of events. In an odd coincidence, some witnesses of the train robbery report seeing him on the train. When Archdeacon Simmons arrives and Pennyfeather is still not home, he calls the police. Inspector Campbell is assigned the case, and is soon joined by Chief Inspector Davy, who sees links to unsolved crimes.
After the sergeant questions everyone at the hotel, Davy comes to ask more questions. He encounters Miss Marple; her observations of the hotel having an ambiance not just of the Edwardian era but of unreality match his. She tells him of seeing Canon Pennyfather at 3 am after she thought he had gone to Lucerne. She also tells him what she overheard while sitting in a public part of the hotel. Bess Sedgwick spoke with the hotel commissionaire Michael Gorman about their mutual past in loud voices. They had once been married in Ireland, which her family ended by parting them. She thought the wedding was not a legal marriage. But it was genuine, and her four marriages were unwittingly bigamous.
On Miss Marple's last day at the hotel, speaking with Davy, they hear two shots ring out, followed by screams outdoors. Elvira Blake is discovered next to the corpse of Gorman. Elvira says he has been shot dead while shielding her from the gunfire. The gun belongs to Malinowski.
Davy calls Miss Marple and Pennyfather back to London. She is in her room and he enacts his likely movements when she saw him in the hallway. She realises she saw a younger man, though with Pennyfather's appearance, and recalls the German term, doppelganger. This jogs Pennyfather's memory; he remembers he saw himself sitting on a chair in his own hotel room, just before he was knocked unconscious. The criminal gang was counting on his absence, and reacted violently on his appearance.
Davy and Miss Marple confront Bess Sedgwick as the orchestrator of these daring robberies, along with Henry, and Ladislaus Malinowski when fast cars were needed. The hotel staff co-operated, and the owners handled the money side of the thefts. Bess confesses not only to this, but also to the murder of Gorman. Making a run for it, Bess steals a car and speeds away recklessly, crashing fatally. Elvira was the second person in that public room, overhearing the conversation between her mother and Gorman. She thinks it invalidates Sedgwick's marriage to Lord Coniston, and marks her as illegitimate and not the heiress. She wants to be wealthy so Ladislaus will marry her. However, her father's will names her explicitly, which information she never learned.
Miss Marple is not convinced Bess killed Gorman. She believes that Elvira killed him. Davy agrees and will not let her get away with the murder.
- Miss Marple: Older woman and amateur detective who resides in St Mary Mead, on vacation in London.
- Mr Humfries: Manager of Bertram's Hotel.
- Miss Gorringe: Works at the reception desk at Bertram's Hotel.
- Rose Sheldon: Chambermaid employed at Bertram's Hotel, whose previous work was as an actress.
- Lady Selina Hazy: Guest at the hotel.
- The Honourable Elvira Blake: Beautiful young woman with fashionably long and straight flaxen hair who is a guest at the hotel, returning to England after time in Italy for schooling.
- Mrs Carpenter: Chaperone for Elvira while travelling from Italy to England.
- Bridget: Best friend of Elvira from the school in Italy; unknown to Elvira's guardian. She lives with her mother in Onslow Square.
- Colonel Derek Luscombe: Elvira's guardian, with her at the hotel. He is one of three trustees who manage Elvira's inheritance.
- Mrs Mildred Melford: Cousin of Colonel Luscombe who will host Elvira until she turns 21. She has daughters nearly the age of Elvira, and they live out of London, in Kent.
- Mr Bollard: Owner of the jewelry shop on Bond Street that Elvira usually frequents.
- Bess, Lady Sedgwick: Guest at the hotel, about 40 years old, well known for her life of daring activities and several marriages. She is Elvira's estranged mother.
- Lord Coniston: Second husband of Bess, and the wealthy father of Elvira Blake. He was much older than Bess; she left him after their daughter was two years old. He died when Elvira was 5 years old.
- Henry: Master of the afternoon tea, "He sets the tone of the [hotel]". He is like a perfect butler.
- Michael "Micky" Gorman: Engaged as Commissionaire (doorman) at Bertram's Hotel a month before the story begins, an Irishman with a military background; Lady Sedgwick's estranged first husband, whom she married when she was 16 years old in Ballygowland, Ireland. He is fatally shot in front of the hotel.
- Richard Egerton: Lawyer who is one of three trustees for Elvira's inheritance.
- Guido: Boyfriend of Elvira when she was in Italy.
- Inspector Campbell: Younger inspector at Scotland Yard, assigned to find the missing cleric.
- Chief-Inspector Fred "Father" Davy: Scotland Yard detective who sees the link between the missing person case and recent large scale burglaries. He works with Miss Marple.
- Sergeant Wadell: Sent from Scotland Yard to do the initial interviews regarding Canon Pennyfather, the missing person.
- Canon Pennyfather: Scholarly cleric with expertise in ancient languages and the Dead Sea Scrolls, who is also noted for his ability to lose track of time completely. He has a distinct appearance, as a man in his early 60s with a shock of white hair.
- Ladislaus Malinowski: Race car driver in his 30s who works with Lady Sedgwick and with whom her daughter Elvira has fallen in love.
- Mrs McCrae: Canon Pennyfather's housekeeper.
- Archdeacon Simmons: Canon Pennyfather's friend and house guest who initiates the call to the police when his friend is missing for a week.
- Mr Robinson: Financial power-player who knows about all aspects of banking and high-finance. Davy approaches him to learn the true owner of the hotel. This character appears briefly in one of the Tommy and Tuppence novels (Postern of Fate), one Hercule Poirot story (Cat Among the Pigeons) and in Passenger to Frankfurt.
- Wilhelm and Robert Hoffman: Two wealthy Swiss brothers who are the true owners of Bertram's Hotel, as learned by Mr Robinson. They handle the illegal financial transactions of the hotel.
References to actual places or events
Bertram's Hotel is popularly believed to have been inspired by Brown's Hotel, in London, where Agatha Christie often stayed when visiting London. However, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography claims that Christie's model was a different Mayfair hotel, Fleming's. The Great Train Robbery (1963) was a background influence.
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 [novel], 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 said of this novel that "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."
- 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 HarperCollins(Facsimile of 1965 Collins Crime Club first edition), 6 March 2006, Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-00-720858-6
The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman's Own in five abridged instalments from 20 November to 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.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
ITV broadcast its adaptation on 23 September 2007 as part of the third series of Marple, starring Geraldine McEwan. This version included 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 : 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 characters:
- Inspector Larry Bird - The new Chief of Investigations, who slowly accepts help from Miss Marple to solve the murders. Played by Stephen Mangan.
- Jane Cooper - Hotel Maid and assistant to Miss Marple. Forms an attachment to Larry Bird and falls in love with him at the end. Played by Martine McCutcheon.
- Tilly Rice - Hotel Maid, close friend to Mickey Gorman, and a blackmailer. Blackmails the killer.
- Hubert Curtain - Solicitor overseeing the Blake estate of Bess' late ex-husband. Involved in embezzlement and the handling of stolen artwork. Played by Peter Davison.
- Mutti - Fashion designer of German and Jewish background. Secretly seeking out a Nazi Officer who is on the run, and owner of several pieces of stolen artwork. Played by Danny Webb.
- Jack Bittern / Joel Bittern - Identical twins, who operate as thieves. Can be distinguished by where they wear their wristwatches.
- Amelia Walker - Singer, seeking to purchase artwork at the hotel.
- Louis Armstrong - Jazz musician and old friend of Amelia's.
- The main sub-plot was changed, in which the hotel is now an operation centre for smuggling Nazi war criminals to safety with stolen identities, in exchange for stolen art treasures they took. Mr Humfries and Hubert are involved in the scheme, hanging the stolen pieces in plain sight in the hotel; art and furniture in hotels is usually reproduction, Miss Marple explains, so it would be safe from both the law and thieves. The art disappears from the hotel when it is sold. Ladislaus Malinowski is a concentration camp prisoner turned Nazi hunter; he works with Mutti and Bess Sedgewick, and together they reveal the hotel guest known as "Canon Pennyfather" is in fact Herman Koch, a Nazi on the run. Miss Marple confirms that he was using the identity of the real Canon Pennyfather (away on holiday), pointing out he acted like a priest from a play while making mistakes in his deception such as only quoting from Psalms. Mutti recovers the artworks stolen from him, including one that Amelia Walker attempts to take.
- A new sub-plot was added - London is hit by a spate of robberies, and during Gorman's murder, Lady Selina's jewels go missing. Miss Marple reveals that the theft was committed by the Bittern Twins, involved in the other robberies. Whilst one of the brothers posed as both, the other stole the jewels, but the brother posing as both made the mistake of not switching their wristwatch to the other wrist, which exposed their scheme, and leads to their arrests.
- Elvira's motivation is changed. She and Malinowski are no longer seriously interested in each other: Malinowski backs off when he realises Elvira is Bess's daughter; Elvira reproaches her mother for this, but never mentions the matter again. Her emotional attachment in the adaption is to her friend, Brigit Milford (the novel's Bridget), whose role is expanded. Several years earlier, Elvira wanted to go swimming in a river; she pressured Brigit into getting in, but backed out from getting in herself. The river was contaminated, and Brigit contracted polio, which led to her losing all use of her right hand. Elvira blames herself for causing this, and now tries to make Brigit's life more comfortable where possible. Miss Marple's denouement reveals, "If Brigit was to enjoy any quality of life, [Elvira] would need a great deal of money" - and this meant any obstacle to her inheritance had to be removed. Gorman's murder remains the same, but a new murder victim is added - Tilly Rice. Tilly was blackmailing Elvira about the secret of her mother's first marriage, so Elvira killed her. Her murder was always planned after Gorman's murder, not the other way around as the police assumed; Miss Marple correctly deduces this.
- Gorman's murder was modified to coincide with a new motive. Gorman is killed by a sniper, under the belief he is protecting Elvira from them. In reality, Elvira was the sniper, and Brigit was dressed up as her to make the hotel's guest believe she was returning to the hotel. Elvira used her knowledge of the hotel to secretly make her way out and behind Brigit, whilst dressed as a maid. The pair then swapped over, Brigit handing over a gun she used as part of the deception. Miss Marple deduces all this before pointing out that they both made a mistake that gave them away - Brigit used her left hand to fire at the "non-existent" sniper, but when Elvira took over, she proceeded to fire with her right hand.
- Lady Bess tries to take the blame during the denouement, but she does not run away and die in a car accident. She is forced to back down, and Elvira and Brigit then confess. Mother and daughter then apologise for wronging each other. In a side-plot, Bess had been receiving death threats prior to the death of Gorman, which made the police think she was the real target of the sniper; Miss Marple reveals that they had been coming from Elvira, that Bess had quickly realised where they had come from, and that Bess had deliberately planted one in Mr Curtain's desk to try to deflect suspicion away from Elvira.
- "Existential Ennui: Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s". Existential Ennui Blogspot.
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B A (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 87. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie". Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- Iles, Francis (17 December 1965). "Review". The Guardian. p. 9.
- Richardson, Maurice (12 December 1965). "Review". The Observer. p. 31.
- Weaver, Robert (8 January 1966). "Review". Toronto Daily Star. p. 42.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 188. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Morgan, Janet (October 2008). "Christie, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa (1890–1976)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 November 2012. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- "Book awards: Anthony Boucher's Best Crime Fiction of the Year". 1966. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- Brophy, Brigid. "Review". The New Statesman – via Explore the world of Agatha Christie's Stories.