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, 17-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, 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. Later on, outside the fogbound hotel two shots ring out, followed by screams. Elvira Blake is discovered next to the corpse of 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. Pennyfather 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 said so to protect the real murderer, her daughter Elvira. Elvira had also overheard the conversation between her mother and Gorman about their marriage, and realised it made Sedgwick's marriage to Elvira's father invalid, and Elvira illegitimate. Elvira's main concern was that, she would be barred from inheriting his estate by this fact. This would lose her not only the money, but also the attention of Ladislaus Malinowski: she loves him, but recognises his main interest is her wealth. Unfortunaly she didn't know that since her father had made a will, leaving the money to her, it wouldn't have matter if she was illegitimate or not, and she would have received her inheritance anyway.
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 affairs
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, 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
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 ones not included in the novel:
- 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.
- 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 identites, 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), then removing it when a buyer has been found. Ladislaus Malinowski is changed to being a concentration camp prisoner turned Nazi hunter; he is working 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 leave with.
- 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 main 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 turned out to be 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 is added in - Tilly Rice. Tilly was blackmailing Elvira about the secret of her mother's first marriage, so she was forced to kill 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. In the adaptation, 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.
- 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.
- "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 ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2012-11-25. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- 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