The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie
It seems almost unnecessary to review one of what must, surely, be a classic series of murder mystery thrillers, but there must be a few people [more? including me] out there who haven’t read all of Christie’s thrillers: there are plenty to go at, after all! These days, one is more likely to be able to watch the most popular stories in the Marple & Poirot canons on television or ‘the big screen’, than to ‘go old school’ and actually take a book out of a library, or buy one to keep and to cherish: it is also eminently possible to do both, of course. I have seen at least one version of this story on television, but thanks to my Swiss-cheese memory, I had forgotten who the murderer/s was/were, and it can be instructive to compare the source material with the transmogrified, scripted version. One obstacle one sometimes has to overcome when reading ‘classic’ fiction is the difference in the language, idioms used, etc., but thankfully, Christie’s usage isn’t overly dated; although, having said that, I did have to scratch my head a few times over something, but I was prepared to accept it in the context of its period—eighty years, in the case of this story!
Of course, Christie’s version of English life was somewhat idealised, even when it was published; especially given that it was published right in the middle of a testing & depressive world war, so in my own humble opinion, she could be forgiven for using rose-tinted glasses in her portrayal, and it is generally recognised that she was subtly lampooning the upper classes who were generally, although not always, on the receiving end of the worst treatment, either as victims, or perpetrators, who would have been subject to the ultimate sanction when convicted. From the few Marple stories I have read hitherto, her involvement has been written as to be somewhat in the background, while the official crime fighters operate with varying degrees of success in the foreground. Here, she is invited by a well-to-do friend to offer solace, and implicitly, her amateur expertise, in the solution of the riddle of why the dead body of a young woman should have been dumped in the library of her friend’s country house, just outside Jane Marple’s home village of St Mary Mead. It is never made completely clear how Marple has acquired her somewhat cynical & world-weary outlook on her fellow human beings, but she seems to be more than ready to assume the worst of a possible perpetrator in any given situation; and in her view, picturesque English villages are all hotbeds of hypocrisy and back-stabbing, both literal & metaphorical.
Her friends categorically deny any involvement in the crime; more vehemently by the husband, Colonel Bantry, given that the victim is a moderately [although not stunningly] attractive young blond woman, but Marple notices some odd points about the body which, of course, the official investigators miss. There are quite a few characters associated with the victim and, therefore, several potential suspects; the motive is guessed at but, as ever, Marple doesn’t jump to conclusions, preferring to take her time to observe, and inwardly digest, the different way the characters respond to the events. Although the twist is one which must, by now, have been used again by other authors subsequently, it is quite possible that Christie was the first author in modern times to use it; suffice to say that the official investigators don’t arrive at it at all, and Marple only reveals it very near the end: ‘keep ‘em guessing until the end’ could very easily have been her motto: or one of them, anyway!
Notwithstanding the culture differences, Christie is always a good read, for those of us who enjoy murder mysteries and, even if her characters are, by now, somewhat fixed in aspic, they are still enjoyable in their historical context, and the plotting is always clever, even by our now oh-so-sophisticated fiction standards. The paperback I read was published in 2016  by HarperCollinsPublishers, London [Collins, The Crime Club], ISBN 978-0-0081-9653-0.