Thursday, March 4, 2010

How did the body GET in the library anyways.

The Body in the Library (1941),  by Agatha Christie.

If I were asked to choose between Agatha Christies two most famous creations—to pick whether I enjoy reading about Hercule Poirot more than Miss Jane Marple, or visa versa—then I believe I’d be stumped.

Both are classic characters—fictional people who (like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe) we can easily come to believe as real. We’ve already run across Poirot in this post, but it’s Miss Marple who fingers the killer in The Body in the Library.

The body belongs to a young dancer named Ruby Keene, who’s been strangled to death. The library is in Gossington Hall, the upper-class home of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry. How the body ended up in their library is one of many mysterious aspects of the case. Neither the Bantrys nor their servants knew the poor girl.

So Mrs. Bantry calls Miss Marple, the elderly woman with a predilection for solving crimes.

It’s always fun to follow along with Miss Marple when she’s on a case. She puts things together not just through deductive reasoning, but also through her sharp and cynical understanding of human nature. She parallels what she sees in people with analogous situations she has encountered in her small hometown. For instance, when she sees the body in the library, she comments that it’s just like when young Tommy Bond put the frog in the clock. And that actually makes sense, when she eventually explains herself.

Anyway, the investigation of the crime leads to the hotel where the murdered girl worked. Soon, another body turns up, though the connection to the first murder isn’t obvious. (Well, not obvious to us. Miss Marple sees it pretty much right away.)  There’s a couple of likely suspects, but both have good alibis. And how the heck DID the body end up in the library anyways?

As is typical of Agatha Christie’s wonderful novels, the clues are all there for us to see along with Miss Marple. The solution is intricate, but makes perfect sense when it’s all explained to us in the end. And the dénouement is excellent—the killer’s identity isn’t revealed even after he or she is caught. It’s only when Miss Marple finally takes us through her reasoning that we all come to understand exactly what’s been going on.

Next time, we'll finish off our Great Detective Survey with a look at The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers.

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