Sunday, November 13, 2016

Miss Jane Marple and The Body in the Library

Before the events of this past week, I had every intention of doing a really in-depth look at my two most recent reads. But the aftershocks of the election are still rolling the ground underneath me, so I'm not sure how this is going to go....

Twice a year Megan at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life runs the Semi-Charmed Reading Challenge (Summer and Winter editions). Winners get to suggest categories for the next round and my suggestion for the Winter 2016 Challenge was to read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects. For example: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie and one of Christie's mystery novels that features poison, or The Monuments Men and All the Light We Cannot See. Having suggested Agatha Christie as an example, I couldn't resist using her--although I've already read the Arsenic book. Fortunately, I had The Life & Times of Miss Jane Marple, a biography of Christie's sleuth, and several unread editions of Miss Marple stories hanging about on the TBR stacks. I hooked up The Body in the Library with the biography and I was all set.

Anne Hart has done an excellent job mining the Miss Marple series for details about our favorite sleuthing spinster. She carefully read all of the Marple stories and tells us every little tidbit that she has found--from who Miss Marple's relatives are to what might have been her very first case to what a day in the life of Miss Marple is like. Sprinkled throughout are bits of Marple wisdom on life, her fellow man....and the wickedness of the common man.

The trouble in this case is that everybody has been too credulous and believing. You simply cannot afford to believe everthing that people tell you. When there's anything fishy about, I never believe anyone at all.

Hart manages to give readers an in-depth look at Miss Marple's career without revealing too much about her cases (in case anyone hasn't already read them all). This is an excellent book for any Christie fan to have upon the shelf. ★★★★

Once finished with the fictional biography of Miss Marple, I plunged into The Body in the Library (1942), the second of the novel-length stories to feature her. Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly wake up one fine morning to discover their usually well-ordered house in disarray (or at least their household staff to be dismayed). Mary, their maid, on her usual morning rounds had opened the curtains in the library, letting the sunshine in to reveal the body of a blonde woman on the hearth rug. The Bantrys have a difficult time believing that they didn't just dream that Mary came in and announced she'd found a body, but Dolly finally convinces Arthur to go and see. And then when it's proved that there really is a body in the library, the first thing to be done after ringing up the police is to get Miss Marple over as soon as possible to begin sleuthing like mad. Dolly very naturally wants to play detective--after all it's her very first dead body--but she knows that she won't be able to make heads or tails of it. Jane Marple will take care of that and Dolly can play Watson to Miss Marple's Sherlock Holmes.

What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one's house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean. (Dolly Bantry)

Of  course, it's not all just fun and games. Dolly is also very worried about how her husband will take the police scrutiny and she knows that the village gossips will be hard at work offering up theories before any official investigation begins. She's hoping that Miss Marple will have the crime solved before the tongues can begin wagging.

But it's not quite that easy to discover how a cheaply dressed dance hostess from the Majestic Hotel wound up on floor of the library at Gossington Hall.  While there are no real connections to the Bantrys (other than the fact that Colonel Bantry had lunched at the Majestic just the week before), there are several leads that come to light during the course of Miss Marple's investigations--alongside those of the official police--Inspector Slack and Chief Constable Colonel Melchett. There is  Basil Blake, a local young man with connections to the film industry. Blake has been the subject of local gossip due to his frequent parties and the platinum blonde who has been living with him. And he's been known to dance with Ruby Keene--was she making trouble for him with his own blonde?

It's also discovered that Ruby had insinuated herself into the lives of a wealthy family by making herself agreeable to the patriarch, Conway Jefferson. He had taken such a shine to the girl that he had decided to adopt her and add her to his will to the tune of 50,000 pounds. That didn't go down so very well with his son-in-law and daughter-in-law. Did they do away with a young woman they felt was a gold digger before she could get the gold? Then there's Ruby's cousin, Josie Turner. When Josie is called upon to identify the body and then visit Gossington Hall (so Slack can see if she recognizes Bantry), Miss Marple notices that she seems more angry with her cousin than sorrowful at her death. Did Ruby get mixed up with a young man and ruin her chances with Jefferson? Was Josie depending on a share of the winnings and do away with her cousin in a fit of anger? And what about the missing Girl Guide, Pamela Reeve? Miss Marple is convinced that she fits into the puzzle somewhere. It will take several parallels with village life and a cunning trap devised by Miss Marple to capture the villain.

Miss Marple is at her inquisitive best. She sips tea at the Majestic and listens to the suspects chatter away about poor Ruby. She goes round with her collection box to check in on Basil Blake. She's comfortably cozy to have around, but shrewd as all get out when it comes to analyzing the crime. As she says about one of the suspects, 

Yes, I do [like him]. Most women would. But he can't take me in. He's a very attractive person, I think. But a little unwise, perhaps, to talk as much as he does.

No, they can't take her in. And that's one of the things we like so much about Miss Marple. Most people think she's led such a sheltered life in St. Mary Mead, but her everyday experiences give her a view direct to the heart of the matter. An excellent vintage mystery that, like so many of Christie's words, takes what is now a standard of detective fiction (the body in the library) and gives it a merry twist. ★★★★ and a half.


Clothes In Books said...

I really like Body in the Library. Its got probably the least likely plot (against considerable opposition) of all AC's books, but I still always have a soft spot for it. Very good characters. REally enjoyed your review.

fredamans said...

I've not read any Miss Marple books, but have seen the show once or twice. I might like the books.

Anonymous said...

I t has been decades I think since I read a Marple - this has such a prototypical title that I tend to ignore it sometime, but you have reminded me that I thought the plot was pretty darn clever. I think MURDER IS ANNOUNCED is still my favourite though ...

Tarissa said...

I've just read my first Agatha Christie earlier this year. It was excellent! (Death on the Nile)

I hope to read more of her books in 2017, and I've also added the other books to my Goodreads shelf, the ones you mentioned here about her. Looks good!

Tarissa said...

P.S. I don't know if you're interested, but I have a Christmas reading challenge I'm hosting this year, called A Literary Christmas. Stop by if you want to check it out!