Goodreads: At Bertram’s Hotel
Series: Miss Marple #11
An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out! When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day!
I’ve enjoyed every Agatha Christie novel I’ve read so far, but At Bertram’s Hotel is a new experience for me because it is my first Miss Marple mystery. Christie’s Poirot is a classic intelligent, perceptive detective, and Tommy and Tuppence are brave and vivacious young adventurers willing to take risks to find the information they want. So I was intrigued to read a book where the protagonist is, in many ways, not actually the protagonist. Miss Marple notices things and has a sharp memory, but she is not actually solving the case in At Bertram’s Hotel. That role actually belongs to a police chief who is more from the Poirot mold, while Miss Marple’s observations are integral to his being able to solve the case. This seemed a unique spin on Christie’s mystery structure, and I’m intrigued as to whether this is true for all the Miss Marple books.
I also found it unusual that it is not immediately clear for much of the novel what exactly the mystery is, what exactly the police—and readers—are trying to solve. There are people at the hotel doing unusual things, but much of the book is spent with the reader attempting to figure out what it actually is they are doing and what might be the crime. Basically, “What is wrong?” is the mystery itself, more than “Who did the wrong thing?” I’m not sure it was my favorite set-up for a mystery, but I found it unique, and, as usual, Christie delivered an outcome I was not really expecting.
I also thought the setting and atmosphere were wondering in At Bertram’s Hotel, something a bit hit-or-miss with her novels for me. Here, however, Christie vividly portrays a respectable hotel with impeccable service that somehow masterfully balances both the old and the new. Guests feel as if they’re stepping back in time, while still being offered modern amenities. I admit it, I wish I could visit this hotel. And apparently the muffins are delicious!
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend readers start with At Bertram’s Hotel as their first Christie novel, perhaps because it seems quieter than some of the others, but it is a very strong mystery and better than many non-Christie mysteries I’ve read. She delivers engaging hard-to-solve mysteries so consistently that it’s hard for me to imagine she would ever write a book I didn’t enjoy and admire.