The Body in the Library

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The Body in the Library
The Body in the Library US First Edition Cover 1942.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
Author Agatha Christie
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
February 1942
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[1] and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in May of the same year.[2] The US edition retailed at $2.00[1] and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).[2] The novel features her fictional amateur detective, Miss Marple.

Plot summary[edit]

Gossington Hall is the residence of the very conventional retired Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly. One morning, the maid finds a dead body in the library. It is a young woman, flashily dressed and made up, with platinum blonde hair, and completely unknown to the Bantrys. She was strangled. Arthur calls the police, and Dolly calls her old friend, Miss Marple.

The police investigators include Inspector Slack and the Chief Constable of "Radfordshire", Colonel Melchett.

No one can identify the dead girl. Suspicion falls on a neighbor, Basil Blake, an artist who designs movie props for "Lemville Studios", and whom Arthur dislikes. Blake had been dating a platinum blonde, Dinah Lee, but she is very much alive.

The autopsy reveals that the girl died between 10 PM and 12 PM the previous evening, had been heavily drugged, and despite her tarty appearance, was a virgin.

Ruby Keene, an 18-year-old dancer at the Majestic Hotel in nearby Danemouth, is reported missing. Josie Turner, Ruby's cousin, and dancer and bridge hostess at the Majestic, identifies the dead girl as Ruby. Josie had turned her ankle, and had Ruby fill in for her as hostess and exhibition dancer with Raymond Starr, the hotel's tennis and dance instructor. Ruby went missing the previous night; Josie had to perform the midnight exhibition dance with Raymond, despite her ankle.

However, Josie had not called the police to say Ruby was missing; that was Conway Jefferson, a wealthy old man staying at the Majestic who had become fond of Ruby. Several years before, Jefferson lost his wife, son Frank, daughter Rosamund, and both legs in an air crash; he is now accompanied by Rosamund's widower Mark, Frank's widow Adelaide, and Adelaide's young son from her first marriage, Peter. Mark and Adelaide are his heirs.

Conway is an old friend of the Bantrys. Dolly and Miss Marple move to the Majestic to investigate further. As Danemouth is in the next county, "Glenshire", Superintendent Harper of the Glenshire police joins the investigation.

Conway planned to adopt Ruby, and to leave her his remaining fortune. This would effectively disinherit Mark and Adelaide. But they have alibis: they were playing bridge in the hotel ballroom with Josie and Conway, while Ruby danced with guests, until after midnight. Ruby's last partner was guest George Bartlett, whose car has been stolen.

Conway asks his old friend, retired Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Henry Clithering, to investigate. Clithering tells him about Miss Marple. Miss Marple fears that if the case is not solved, the Bantrys will be suspected and shunned permanently.

The police suspect that Ruby went off to meet a boyfriend, who strangled her and left her in the Gossington library. Conway's valet Edwards saw a snapshot of Basil Blake fall out of Ruby's handbag, which points to Blake.

Adelaide is a devoted mother to Peter, and Mark deeply loved Rosamund. Conway made large settlements for his children, which passed to their spouses, so they would have no strong motive to do away with Ruby. But Mark has gambled away Rosamund's share, and Frank lost his share in bad investments before he died. Thus Conway's adoption of Ruby would leave Mark and Adelaide with nothing.

Bartlett's burned-out car is found in a quarry with a charred corpse inside. From clothing and badges, the corpse is identified as 16-year-old Girl Guide Pamela Reeves, missing since she went shopping the day before the other corpse was found.

Miss Marple learns from Pamela's friends that Pamela had been approached by a "film producer" and offered a screen test, and that she was going for the test, not shopping.

Miss Marple tells Dinah Lee that she has discovered that (in defiance of bohemian "convention"), Dinah and Basil are married, and that Basil will be arrested for killing Ruby. Basil confesses that after quarrelling with Dinah at a studio party, he went home and found Ruby's body. In a panic, he dumped the body in the Bantrys' library. The police arrest him.

Miss Marple, Clithering, and the Bantrys return to the Majestic with Melchett and Harper. Miss Marple visits Somerset House (to learn something concerning marriages). Then she asks Conway to tell Mark and Adelaide that tomorrow, he will change his will, leaving his money to a hostel for young girl dancers in London.

At 3 AM, an intruder tries to murder Conway in his bedroom, and is caught in the act by the police, but not named.

Miss Marple then provides the dénouement. Although nail clippings were found in Ruby's room, the dead girl in the library had bitten nails, which meant that she was not Ruby. Also, Mark said that Ruby had teeth that ran right down her throat, but the girl in the library had teeth that stuck out.

When Dinah mentioned Somerset House and marriage, Miss Marple thought to visit there, and 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 lured Pamela to the hotel for the "screen test". In Josie's room, they dressed her and made her up ("for the test") to resemble Ruby, then drugged her. During the bridge play, Mark took a break "to write letters", but actually took Pamela to Blake's house and strangled her. He returned while Ruby was still dancing in the ballroom, and remained till after midnight, thus having a perfect alibi for her supposed time of death.

Just before midnight, when Ruby left to change for the exhibition dance, Josie followed her and killed her in Josie's room. Then she performed the dance with Raymond. Later, she dressed Ruby in Pamela's Girl Guide uniform, clipped down Ruby's nails, and took her in Bartlett's car to the quarry.

But there was no evidence of this plot. So Miss Marple laid a trap for the murderers, baiting it with Conway's supposed new plan to leave his money elsewhere. While Mark went out with friends, Josie would inject Conway with poison, and then push one of the ornamental stone balls off the roof. The very loud crash just outside his window would account for Conway's apparent death from heart attack.

Seeing Josie arrested and the plot exposed, Mark breaks down and confesses. The book ends with some happy news for other characters.

Major themes[edit]

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[edit]

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."[3]

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."[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

Allusions[edit]

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 Christie's Cards on the Table, published six years earlier, Anne Meredith knows Ariadne Oliver as the writer of a book called The Body in the Library.

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[edit]

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 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 this adaptation was largely faithful to the original novel, there were several changes:

  • Josie's accomplice is her lesbian lover Adelaide.
  • The date is changed to after World War II, with two related changes:
    • Conway's wife and children were killed by a V-2 strike, not in a plane crash. (This is shown in a prologue scene.)
    • Mark, Frank, and Peter's father Mike were all RAF pilots in the war.
  • The characters of Clithering, Edwards, and McLean are omitted.
  • Conway sees the snapshot of Blake that falls out of Ruby's handbag.
  • The drugging of the first victim is revealed later.
  • Miss Marple's explanation of the crime comes before the trap to catch the killers, rather than after.

Publication history[edit]

Dustjacket illustration of the UK first edition; the book was first published in the US
  • 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  2. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
  3. ^ The Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 1942 (p. 249)
  4. ^ The Observer, 17 May 1942 (p. 3)
  5. ^ Toronto Daily Star, 21 March 1942 (p. 11)
  6. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 189). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3

External links[edit]