The Body in the Library
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||245 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||N or M?|
|Followed by||Five Little Pigs|
The Body in the Library is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1942 and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in May of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6). The novel features her fictional amateur detective, Miss Marple.
The story starts at Gossington Hall with Mrs Dolly Bantry waking up from a pleasant dream, and noticing that the maid has not been in yet. Suddenly, the maid, Mary, dashes in, tearful and breathless, and informs Mrs Bantry that there is a body in the library, before running out again. Colonel Arthur Bantry goes downstairs and learns from his butler, Lorrimer, that there is indeed a body in the library. He calls Constable William Palk and Mrs Bantry calls her friend, Miss Marple (revealing that the victim has been strangled).
Miss Marple is picked up by Mrs Bantry and taken to Gossington to see the body. It is a young girl with platinum blonde hair, heavily applied make-up and painted nails, wearing an old but glittery satin evening dress of rather poor quality, with silver sandals. Soon the police arrive, the senior officers being Inspector Slack and Colonel-Commissioner Terence Melchett, the Chief Constable of the county. Nobody recognizes the body.
Miss Marple tells Mrs Bantry that a good suspect would be the Bantrys' neighbour, Basil Blake, the son of an old school friend of Dolly's, who is disliked intensely by Colonel Bantry. Basil is working at Lemville Studios in the art department, designing props. Basil is well known for dating a young platinum blonde, Dinah Lee. Melchett visits Basil but soon discovers that Dinah is not the murder victim when she arrives and argues with Basil (Basil's alibi is that he was at a studio party from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am). The autopsy reveals that the girl was strangled with the belt of her own dress, and that death took place between 10:00 and 12:00 at night. She had been heavily drugged, and, despite her tarty appearance, died a virgin.
Subsequently the body is thought to be Ruby Keene, an 18-year-old dancer who worked at a hotel called the Majestic in the nearby seaside resort of Danemouth. The body is identified by Ruby's cousin and colleague, Josephine "Josie" Turner, who explains that she is a dancer and bridge hostess at the Majestic and had asked Ruby to fill in as dance hostess, due to Josie suffering ankle injuries. Ruby would just dance with guests and give exhibition dances with Raymond Starr, the tennis and dancing professional. But the previous night Ruby had gone missing and so Josie had to do the dancing. After Josie has visited Gossington, Mrs Bantry realises that the one who called the police was Conway Jefferson, an old friend of the Bantrys. Conway's wife, son, and daughter (Margaret, Frank and Rosamund) all were killed in a plane crash over France. Conway's legs were both so badly injured they were amputated. He lives with Frank's widow, Adelaide; Rosamund's widower, Mark Gaskell; and Peter Carmody, Adelaide's son from her first marriage. Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple go to Danemouth to stay at the Majestic and find the killer. As Danemouth is in the neighbouring county of Glenshire, Melchett and Slack are working with Superintendent Harper of the Glenshire police. Melchett and Harper interview Conway and discover that he had spent a lot of time with Ruby, become infatuated with her and was going to adopt her, disinherit Mark and Adelaide, and settle £50,000 on her when she came of age and leave to her his entire fortune. Despite strong motives, Mark and Adelaide have alibis. They were playing bridge watching Ruby dancing. Melchett and Harper interview a hotel guest George Bartlett who was the last one to see Ruby alive and who has had his car stolen.
Conway orders his valet, Edwards, to summon an old friend, retired Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Henry Clithering. Mr Jefferson asks Clithering to investigate. Commissioner Clithering tells him about Miss Marple. Later, after dining, Miss Marple tells Clithering that she fears the case might never get solved and as a result people will start to think that the Bantrys were involved and they'll be shunned.
The police suspect that when Ruby went missing she changed her clothes to meet a boyfriend. He found out about her and Conway, making him panic and strangle her, leaving her at the Gossington library, and driving away to London. Sir Henry interviews Edwards who tells him that he saw a snapshot of Basil Blake fall out of Ruby's handbag, making Conway and the reader suspect that Ruby had a lover.
Miss Marple, Commissioner Clithering, and Mrs Bantry talk with Adelaide and Mark and think that Adelaide is a very devoted mother and that Mark is a nice fellow who adored Rosamund and she adored him, but he talks too much. The police detectives discover that Conway gave a lot of money to Adelaide and Mark; supposedly, they would have nothing to gain by Ruby's death. It is revealed that Frank invested and lost a lot of his money, and Mark gambled and lost his, giving them both an even stronger motive.
Bartlett's Minoan 14 car is found burning in Venn's Quarry with a charred corpse inside. With a few scraps of clothing surviving the fire, the body is identified as Pamela Reeves, a 16-year-old Girl Guide reported missing a few days earlier. Pamela was last seen going shopping. Miss Marple interviews Pamela's friends, and discovers that Pamela was actually going to a hotel for a film test after being approached by a "film producer", but Pamela never returned. Miss Marple goes to Basil Blake's house and informs Dinah Lee that she has discovered that she and Basil are married and that Basil will be arrested for killing Ruby. Basil returns and confesses that after getting drunk and fighting with Dinah at a studio party, he went home and found Ruby lying strangled to death on his hearthrug. Panicking, he dumped her body in the Bantrys' library. The police arrive and Blake is arrested.
Miss Marple, Sir Henry, and the Bantrys return to the Majestic with Melchett and Harper. Miss Marple makes a quick trip to Somerset House (concerning something about marriages) and asks Conway to tell Mark and Adelaide that he is leaving the money to a hostel for young dancers in London, and that he will visit a solicitor to finalise the details tomorrow. Conway does so, and Harper and his men are asked to keep watch. Then the Bantrys and Miss Marple (along with the staff and other guests) retire for the night. At 3:00 in the morning, someone breaks into Conway's bedroom, via the balcony and window, and tries to murder him by injecting him with poison. The attacker is stopped by Melchett, Harper and Clithering. The intruder, however, is not named.
Miss Marple then provides the dénouement. Although nail clippings were found in Ruby's room, the girl in the library had bitten nails, which meant that the body in the library was not Ruby's. With Dinah mentioning Somerset House and marriage, Miss Marple thought to visit there and so she discovered that Mark was married to Josie. Upon finding out that Conway planned to adopt Ruby, they decided to murder her and frame Basil. Mark and Josie approached Pamela and tricked her into thinking she was going for a film test. When she accepted, they lured her to the hotel, where they bleached her hair, put make-up on her, varnished her nails, put her into one of Ruby's dresses, and drugged her. Mark slipped away to write letters, and supposedly drive down to the sea-front. But that was when he really drove Pamela to Basil Blake's house and strangled her. So, at the time the doctor said the girl died, Mark and Josie had solid alibis as they were seen playing bridge watching the real Ruby alive and dancing and they did not leave the table until after midnight.
Josie had told Ruby to lie down in Josie's room where she was drugged. While changing for the dance, Josie murdered Ruby. In the early hours of the morning, Josie dressed Ruby in Pamela's Girl Guide uniform, stole Bartlett's car, drove to Venn's Quarry, and incinerated the lot. Further evidence was revealed when Mark said that Ruby had teeth that ran right down her throat, but the girl in the library had teeth that stuck out. With no evidence, Miss Marple laid a trap for them. Mark went to dine out with friends and went to a nightclub and his flat. Josie was to do the work. She loosened a ball on the roof and was going to push it off: Conway's death would be put down to the shock of the noise. Mark went to pieces and confessed. The book ends with some happy news for other characters.
In her Author's Foreword, Christie describes "the body in the library" as a cliché of detective fiction. She states that when writing her own variation on this theme, she decided that the library should be a completely conventional one while the body would be a highly improbable and sensational one. In light of these remarks, this novel can be considered a conscious reworking of the genre.
An unusual feature of The Body in the Library is that it has almost as many detectives as it has suspects. Although Jane Marple is the most famous character in the novel, and the person who ultimately solves the mystery, she does not fully enter the action until the half-way point of the novel. Even then she is not always the driving force of the investigation. The police are represented by Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack of the Radfordshire force, and Superintendent Harper of Glenshire. In addition, a second "amateur detective", the retired head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry Clithering, gets involved at the request of Conway Jefferson. Melchett, Harper and Sir Henry all play significant roles in advancing the investigation, and, through them, the reader often has access to significant information before Miss Marple does. In addition, Adelaide Jefferson's son, Peter Carmody, plays at being a detective and inadvertently provides a unique source of information.
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Willson Disher of The Times Literary Supplement was impressed in his review of 16 May 1942 when he said, "Some devoted souls may sigh for Hercule Poirot, but there are bound to be others who will be glad to find his place taken in the 'new Agatha Christie' by Miss Marple. What this relief signifies is that professional detectives are no match for elderly spinsters (not all so elderly), with some training in looking under the antimacassar, who are now very much in fashion. Even while making full allowance for this we find it hard not to be impressed by old-maid logic. When Miss Marple says, 'The dress was all wrong,' she is plainly observing facts hidden from the masculine eye – facts which are of a very lively interest. The Body in the Library should turn Hendon College co-educational."
Maurice Richardson was not as impressed with Christie's efforts as usual in his 17 May 1942 review in The Observer when he concluded, "Ingenious, of course, but interest is rather diffuse and the red herrings have lost their phosphorescence."
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star (21 March 1942) wrote that "It doesn't take long to read this one, but the two killings in it are made so mysterious that you will not want to lay the book down until the killer is caught." The reviewer concludes, "Police do a lot of probing, but it is the shrewd reasoning – intuition perhaps – of Jane Marple that finds the missing link and discloses a diabolical plot."
Robert Barnard: "Bravura performance on a classic situation. St Mary Mead regulars figure in the case, pleasantly diversified by fashionable seaside hotel guests and the film crowd. If you think what happens to the body after death is unlikely, try the more 'realistic' P.D. James' An Unsuitable Job for a Woman."
In Chapter 8 the author gives herself a namecheck from the mouth of the young boy, Peter Carmody. Explaining that he enjoys reading detective stories, Peter says that he has the autographs of Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, John Dickson Carr and H. C. Bailey.
In Chapter 9 Colonel Melchett states that "there's still one thing to be done. Cherchez l'homme." It is referred to as a joke in the book, and is most likely a reference to Hercule Poirot, Christie's other famous sleuth. However, it is most likely a reference to the popular phrase 'cherchez la femme', meaning that there's frequently a woman behind men's behaviour and motives in detective stories; since in this novel the victim was a girl, who was presumed to have a male lover, the phrase was changed jokingly by the detective.
In the first episode of the second series ("And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea") of the television series Lewis, the body of a handyman is found in the Bodleian Library. DS James Hathaway comments to DI Robbie Lewis, "You realise what we've got, don't you, sir. ... The body in the library."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
In 1984, The Body in the Library was first adapted for television by the BBC for their television series of Miss Marple, with Joan Hickson making the first of her acclaimed appearances in the role of Jane Marple. The adaptation was transmitted in three parts between 26–28 December 1984, and only had a few changes made to it:
- The character of Superintendent Harper was omitted
- Bartlett's car was changed from being a Minoan 14 to a Vauxhall Coaster
- The amount of money left to Ruby was changed from £50,000 to £100,000.
A second adaptation of the novel was made in 2004 by ITV, as part of their ongoing Marple series. This adaptation starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, James Fox as Colonel Bantry, Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry, Ian Richardson as Conway Jefferson, and Jamie Theakston as Mark Gaskell. While the adaptation stayed faithful to the original work of the novel, a number of changes were made:
- The role of Josie's partner-in-crime is changed from Mark to Adelaide. In the adaptation, she was having a lesbian love affair with Josie after having fallen in love with her, and thus assisted her in the murders by helping to lure Pamela under the pretence of a film test, before killing her, while creating a false alibi for herself that she was typing letters when Ruby is murdered. This change by the adaptation leads to Miss Marple making the suggestion that the crime has a "woman's touch" to it, during its investigation
- The characters of Clithering and McLean are omitted
- The characters of Margaret, Rosamund, and Frank are seen for the first time in a prologue sequence created for the adaptation. Unlike in the novel, all three are killed in 1944 caused by a V2 rocket
- The snapshot of Blake that falls out of Ruby's handbag, is seen by Mark rather than by Edwards
- Mark is an RAF pilot in the adaptation, and was best friends with Frank and Mike Carmody
- Adelaide is married twice in the adaptation - first Mike, Peter's father, who was shot down during World War II, and then to Frank until he was killed in 1944.
- Unlike the novel, Josie and Mark are not found to be married to each other, due to the former's change in partner-in-crime
- The discovery that the first victim had been drugged is not known until later in the adaptation when the coroner is questioned by Melchett
- Miss Marple's denouement of the crime is revealed before the Adelaide is caught in the trap she sets up to catch her and her partner out
- 1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1942, Hardback, 245 pp
- 1941, Collins Crime Club (London), May 1942, Hardback, 160 pp
- 1946, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, (Pocket number 341), 152 pp
- 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 924), 190 pp
- 1959, Pan Books, Paperback, 157 pp (Great Pan G221)
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1972, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 305 pp; ISBN 0-85456-102-1
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1942 UK first edition), 7 November 2005, Hardcover; ISBN 0-00-720844-8
The novel was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 10 May (Volume 213, Number 45) to 21 June 1941 (Volume 213, Number 51) with illustrations by Hy Rubin.
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- The Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 1942 (p. 249)
- The Observer, 17 May 1942 (p. 3)
- Toronto Daily Star, 21 March 1942 (p. 11)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 189). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3