Let’s all have some tea and muffins at Bertram’s Hotel

At Bertram's HotelAt Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie
Series: Miss Marple #10
Publication Date: October 1, 1965
Pages: 272
Genre: mystery
Project: appointment with agatha

At Bertram’s Hotel the intrepid Miss Marple, on holiday in London, must solve a deadly mystery at the end of a chain of very violent events.

An old-fashioned London hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out to be.…

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.…

At Bertram’s Hotel is the 11th Miss Marple, published in 1944, and Jane is winding down her career – there are only two more Miss Marple mysteries after this one: Nemesis, published in 1971 and The Sleeping Murder, published in 1976 (but apparently written much earlier).

Bertram’s Hotel is an old-fashioned hotel in London, with an impeccable reputation and an equally impeccable tea tray. One can get *real* muffins here, slathered in butter, to go with one’s tea. As an American, I have no idea what these real muffins look like – I’m concluding from the discussion that they are not our blueberry studded, cake-like confections, and are, perhaps, something more like what I would call an English muffin.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Anyway, the whole book had me wanting to eat something. Because these people drank a lot of tea, and ate a lot of tea pastries.

Five minutes later breakfast came. A comfortable tray with a big potbellied teapot, creamy-looking milk, a silver hot water jug. Two beautifully poached eggs on toast, poached the proper way, not little round hard bullets shaped in tin cups, a good-sized round of butter stamped with a thistle. Marmalade, honey and strawberry jam. Delicious-looking rolls, not the hard kind with papery interiors—they smelt of fresh bread (the most delicious smell in the world!). There was also an apple, a pear and a banana.

This was a fun mystery for other reasons as well – there were three separate subplots here: the robberies that Scotland Yard was trying to solve, the mystery of the missing Canon Pennyfather, and then the murder of the Commissaire (sort of a doorman, I think) which occurred very late in the book.

Bess Sedgewick was a wonderful side-character. She was an adventurous sort of a woman, who was staying at the hotel during the time that Miss Marple was spending her holiday there. This is one of those Christie books where she puts a whole bunch of people in the same place to watch the fireworks ensure – Bess is there, her daughter Elvira, who was raised by an elderly retainer after her father died and after Bess sailed into the great unknown to have adventures, is there, an ethically challenged, but extremely handsome, Italian race-car driver is hanging about, and then we have the ridiculously absent-minded Canon Pennyfather who disappears midway through the book and turns up miles away from where he should have been.

Chief-Inspector Davies, nicknamed “Father,” is the one that puts it all together after Scotland Yard is brought in to figure out what has happened to Canon Pennyfather. He and Miss Marple are perfect together, and I wish that he had shown up in some of the other Marple books. Christie missed an opportunity here. He says to his subordinate:

“I just think I’d like to have a good deal more information about this place. I’d like to know who is behind it, what its financial status is. All that sort of thing.”
Campbell shook his head. “I should have said if there was one place in London that was absolutely above suspicion–”
“I know, I know,” said Father. “And what a useful thing it is to have that reputation!”

The resolution to the book is a bit of a let-down, unfortunately, with the murderer being seemingly free due to a lack of evidence. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the end, though, because Christie’s puzzles are always so much fun to try to solve. I had read this one before, and remembered the identity of the murderer, but the other two subplots were just as mysterious this time as they were the first time I read it! This is one of the reasons that I love Christie so much – between the mouthwatering descriptions of tea and the complicated plotlines, I always find something to enjoy!

2 comments

  1. Oooo, sounds delightful! It makes you hungry and puzzled all at the same time. 😉 Christie really is a master of her craft, isn’t she? Even the books that are sub-par Christie are still good reads. I’m off now to continue on with The Secret Adversary which I must say, I’m enjoying immensely! 🙂

  2. This is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels of all time. Not only is it an enjoyable plot, the characters are great (like you, I’m a big fan of ‘Father’) and there are some highly humorous moments. I think people sometimes forget that Christie could be very funny. I’m not sure I agree with you about the ending, though…without giving anything away to people reading this who haven’t read the book, I interpreted it that Father was going to find a way to bring the murderer to justice…?

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