Thursday, October 11, 2012
Forgotten Books: The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie
Some of the reviews of this novel, written at the time of its publication, will make you smile. Replace Poirot with an old woman named Miss Jane Marple? How"unrealistic" she is as a detective. As if Poirot is an exemplar of hardbitten realism. (I've always preferred Jane to Hercule.)
This is my favorite Christie novel for three reasons. First she obviously set out to ransack the cliche set-up of the mysterious body found in an unlikely place, in this case the library of an upright, upper class couple whose social reputation is beyond question.
Second because in looking into the background of the dead young woman Christie examines both the class system--not only is the young woman's corpse a problem, so is her lower order upbringing, as disturbing in its way as death itself--and the show business life she lead.
Which leads into point number Three. Suspects include people at a nearby posh hotel where the dead woman was (among other duties) a substitute dancer in the nightly cabaret. Christie's social eye and ear are as good for the realm of lower order performers as they are for pompous upper class members who pay to see them.
But Christie being Christie she has to do a little trashing of the moderne which takes the form of a young Londoner who uses his home here for wild assignations and parties. He is connected to the film industry which makes him a fitting target for Christie's satiric side. Film industry? You mean boorish idlers who deflower naive young women and plunder otherwise happy marriages?
As I mentioned some of the initial reviews knocked the novel for its unrealistic detective (Jane Marple) and plotting. I ran across a quote from that most excellent writer Robert Barnard that makes the case for the book very well. "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."