The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie (1942)

For some reason The Body in the Library is one of the Christie book titles that stands out the most in my mind, although I’m not even sure that I’ve read a review of it.  I somehow have the impression that it’s one of the quintessential Christie novels, which makes no sense because I don’t recall anyone really talking about it.  But that’s kind of cool, because I have an early 1940s novel by an author in her prime, and I know next to nothing about it.

It may be the American in me, but whenever I hear “body in the library”, I always imagine a murder victim found in a town’s public library.  I’ve read enough British books from the era to know better, but for some reason my mind always goes there.  I can now confirm to you that the body in Christie’s novel is indeed found in the reading room of a country house, and not a building of the book lending variety.  The owners of the estate are shocked to discover the corpse, as they both claim they’ve never seen the girl before.  Things do look a bit grim for the man of the house, as it’s immediately assumed that someone knocked off his mistress.

This is a Miss Marple novel – only the second that I’ve read – and I have to say that nothing really stood out about it until the ending.  Marple and a few detectives latch onto a circle of suspects at a nearby seaside hotel, dig into their backgrounds, and a seemingly fruitless investigation meanders for a hundred pages as it’s established that everyone has an air tight alibi.  It’s all perfectly enjoyable Christie as you may expect from a book written at the time, but similar to Sad Cypress or Murder at Hazelmoor, the bulk of the story doesn’t have anything standout about it.  Like those last two stories though, there is a clever solution to it all, and I was kicking myself for having suspected half of the misdirection but not putting the full thing together.

As far as Christie goes this feels like an insignificant work, although I’d take it any day over the output by most other authors.  Miss Marple didn’t really stand out as a character, and if you cut out the fact that she solves the case, she’d probably be the least memorable of the cast.  I think for now I like my Poirot, although we’ll see if that holds in the future.

My edition

I snagged a gorgeous 1945 Pocket Books edition, which easily has the best cover available.  The book looks and feels absolutely mint, although I discovered that the binding was getting a bit separated from the opening pages.  Paper glue, a fine-tipped paintbrush, and a night under some heavy books solved that issue, and the book is now in pristine shape.  If you collect vintage paperbacks these are some cheap tools that can get your books into good form for reading, and saves you the irritating mess of trying to read a book while managing loose pages.

8 thoughts on “The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie (1942)”

  1. Which is the other Marple you have read? Interesting that you find Marple the least memorable character of the book. It was only her second novel outing, so I wonder if the Marple character was something that came out stronger the more books she appeared in. I don’t remember finding Marple a fainter character in this one, but I had seen the Joan Hickson adaptations first so perhaps that helped to solidify the character for me. My memory is a little woolly this morning but I wonder also if Marple is more in the background of the first three mysteries/stories – The Moving Finger especially. Her position as being more in the background is used partially comically in The Thirteen Problems, as often Marple gets overlooked when it comes to revealing solutions to the case presented.

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  2. Miss Marple is definitely not to all tastes-she meanders, talks in riddles, and more often than not solves the case because so and so reminded her of so and so from her past. And she’s definitely not usually on the scene looking at clues or such-in many cases, she’s at home being filled in by someone she knows on scene, or her version of Inspector Japp, Police Inspector Dermott Craddock. I remember The Body in the Library as a very average Marple and a very average Christie, so I definitely wouldn’t judge the character by that one.

    I think I’d go with What Mrs McGuillicuddy Saw! or The Mirror Crack’d (both very strong Christies with or without Marple) to really judge whether the character is your cup of tea.

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  3. In my opinion, “A Murder is Announced” is by far the best Miss Marple book. And while taste is of course purely subjective, I do think one can objectively say that it’s the one with the best clues.

    Library is okay. Average Christie, which still means that it’s pretty entertaining. I really enjoy 4:50 from Paddington and especially the Moving Finger. But be aware, that the first one has barely any clues (I count one, if you are really generous) and the second one barely any Miss Marple in it. But I find the cast or at least some cast members in both of these books more colourful and entertaining than the ones in Body in the Library.

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