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Agatha Christie - At Bertram's Hotel - Full Review
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At Bertram's Hotel

by Agatha Christie

After a promising start, Bertram's Hotel takes a curious twist and becomes a bit of a mish-mash. The novel is a combination of a heist drama, a family drama, a mild comedy and - only in part and towards the end - something of a traditional Miss Marple murder mystery. What is perhaps surprising is that the novel not only works, but works extremely well.

The two things that hold the whole together are the dialogue and the characters - some characters are mundane - too mundane and too real to be real in a fiction novel - and some are decidedly larger than life. Both types are essential to the plot, which is both bizarre and original.

As for Stephanie Cole's reading of this novel, the only necessary description is the word brilliant.

There are many problems with the novel. Christie tries to cram in a heck of a lot in between the two covers of the novel. This gives the story - in its central stretch - a loose and unwound feel - as though one is reading a menu of subplots that might go well together but only if combined skilfully by a master chef. Here we find kidnapping, blackmail, major hold-ups, murder, romantic intrigue and much more besides.

Thankfully Christie is capable of supplying the plot that brings it all together. The ending is well worth waiting for.

The key problem with the novel might be that Miss Marple does not demonstrate any of the will to act and keen insight that is central to the solution of the crime. Jane Marple is a melancholic figure in this story - attempting to go back to a past that she clearly found more comfortable than the present day reality (the novel was published in the mid-sixties). She is involved in events, but not decisively. This might be the key problem, but it is not.

Neither is the key problem with the novel its glamourisation of train robberies and such like. This is forgivable in a book by an author of crime novels writing in the sixties, in the aftermath of the Great Train Robbery.

The key problem is that the novel replaces the fearful suspense of the unexplained murder with the adventure of the meticulously planned heist. The former is something that Marple's penetrating psychology can reliably sleuth, the latter is not. The crime syndicate consipiracy sort of novel is something that Christie simply does not do as well as other writers. The murder in this story is relegated to a sub-plot and one in which the reader does not have much opportunity to get involved.

If this fault can be overlooked, then Christie has created in this novel, the sort of larger-than-life characters who make some of her novels not only a joy to read, but a refreshing escape from reality.

Published by HarperCollins and read by Stephanie Cole

Litrev Rating

Overall 5______

Suspense 5______
Characters 5______
Plot 4______
Audio 5______
Agatha Christie - At Bertram's Hotel
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