For the first and only time we have back-to-back Miss Marple novels. This time she is enjoying a staycation at Bertram’s Hotel, of which she has very fond memories having stayed there once when she was fourteen.
Entering Bertram’s is to go back in time to Edwardian England, although there is now hidden central heating and “also, tucked down a passage, in a secretive way, a television-room for those who asked for it” (presumably where the BBC2 channel may be reserved for the duration of a televisual feast).
Whilst Miss Marple enjoys her holiday Chief-Inspector “Father” Fred Davy is concerned with an increase in “bank hold-ups, snatches of pay-rolls, thefts of consignments of jewels, and train robberies”. Strangely, some well-respected people have been seen in the vicinity of some of these crimes and they all seem to have a connection with Bertram’s and so Father heads there to see if he can find out any more. Shortly after the absent-minded Canon Pennyfather disappears from the hotel in the middle of the night – just what is going on?
Well that’s a good question – if I was doing spoilers I wouldn’t really know how to sum things up. Murder doesn’t happen until quite late and Christie uses something once too often. Also, a clue that I thought had been cleverly hidden was actually not a secret at all which should make things obvious – not that I solved it first time round!
It’s not a good msytery and its only redeeming feature for me is the information we are given about Miss Marple’s background (see below).
But if you do give it a try then you will finish by wishing you could eat well-buttered muffins at Bertram’s Hotel.
Recurring Character Development
Lady Selina thought she was dead years ago and now looks about a hundred. She met Miss Marple when she moved to St Mary Mead to be close to the nearby airfield where her second son was stationed.
Had stayed at Bertram’s with her aunt and Uncle Thomas, then Canon of Ely. This was nearly sixty years ago.
Has remarkable eyesight for her age.
Has outlived most of her contemporaries.
Though she cried herself to sleep for a week after her mother nipped an unsuitable friendship with a young man in the bud, she was ultimately glad as when she met him years later she found him to be quite dreadful.
Her one celebrity acquaintance – forgetting Sir Henry Clithering – is the Bishop of Westchester who she refers to as “dear Robbie” who as a child had said “Be a crocodile now, Aunty Janie. Be a crocodile and eat me.” He is now dead.
Always takes a small devotional book with her and reads the allotted page and a half for the day.
An aunt Helen (possibly the wife of Uncle Thomas?) enjoyed buying groceries at the Army & Navy stores and her trips with young Jane ended by going “up in the lift to the fourth floor and having luncheon which always finished with a strawberry ice. After that, they bought half a pound of chocolate creams and went to a matinée in a four wheeler”.
“Rather shamefacedly she paid a visit to Madame Tussaud’s, a well-remembered delight of her childhood.”
She can’t find Bradley’s which is where Aunt Helen went “about her sealskin jacket”.
She had a Great-uncle Thomas who was a retired admiral and a distant cousin, Lady Ethel Merridew.
She had a governess called Miss Ledbury.
She has a stuttering cousin called Fanny Godfrey.
Went to Paris with her mother, Clara, and her grandmother.
Is now close to fifty years old.
Has had an exhibition of her paintings recently and whilst she was modern about twenty years ago is now considered completely old-fashioned by young artists.
Signs of the Times
Bertram’s china “if not actually Rockingham and Davenport, looked like it”. I read this as being made by a single firm but they are actually two distinct manufacturers of pottery.
Colonel Luscombe believes that racing driver Ladislaus Malinowski is a better hero for Elvira to have than “one of those pop-singers or crooners or long-haired Beatles or whatever they call themselves”.
Miss Marple thinks of the lyric “Oh where have you been all my life” from a long-forgotten song. I can’t find what this is at all but in 1962 Arthur Alexander released “Where Have You Been (All My Life)” as the B-side to “Soldier of Love”.
Miss Marples goes to look at the real linen sheets at Robinson & Cleaver’s. This department store chain was founded in 1874 in Belfast and prided itself on being “the most famous store in the world for Irish linens”. There was a London store by 1910 but the flagship Belfast store closed in 1984.
Canon Pennyfather sees a friend from SOAS. The School of Oriental and African studies was founded in 1916 and is part of the University of London.
Canon Pennyfather sees “The Walls of Jericho” at the cinema. It is not the Biblical epic he is expecting. There was a 1948 film of that name, which included Kirk Douglas in the cast, but it isn’t meant to be this as we are later given some fictional cast members.
The National Anthem is played at the end of the film. I can’t find when this practice ended in the UK.
The Irish Mail train is robbed. This service started in 1848 and linked London Euston to Holyhead in North Wales where the ferry could be caught to Dublin.
Mrs McCrae puts the Dover sole away in the Frigidaire. The Guardian Frigerator Company was founded in 1916 and developed the first self-contained refrigerator. It changed its name to Frigidaire in 1919 and is now a division of Electrolux known as Frigidaire Appliance Company.
Mrs McCrae thinks “the scatty ones seemed always to be looked after by a special providence. Whilst taking no care or thought, they could still survive even a Panda crossing. These existed in the UK from 1962 to 1967 and were a precursor the pelican crossing which was introduced in 1969 following the even shorter lived X-way.
Father Davy sings “Why must they call me Mary when my name’s Miss Gibbs?” This is from the 1909m musical comedy “Our Miss Gibbs”. He sings another song from what is spelled as “Floradora” but is actually “Florodora” an 1899 musical.
“The Walls of Jericho” reminds Miss Marple of a play by Mr Sutro. Alfred Sutro (1863-1933) did write such a play in 1904.
References to previous works
Referring to “A Caribbean Mystery” Joan West says “She enjoyed her trip to the West Indies, I think, though it was a pity she had to get mixed up in a murder case. Quite the wrong thing at her age.”
Father Davy consults the mysterious Mr Robinson who first appeared in “Cat Among the Pigeons”.