Agatha Christie‘s The Body in the Library, published in 1942, is a light read, but sprinkled with a variety of unlikable characters, most which can be considered suspects. They are greedy, or indifferent about the murder of the poor young woman found dead in the library of Mr. & Mrs. Bantry.
Dolly Bantry wakes in her beautiful home in the quiet village of St Mary Mead; everything is perfect until the shocking discovery of a body in the library. Who is the murdered young girl and who could possibly have killed her? Suspicion turns to Dolly’s husband, a man with a reputation as a flirt, who swears he never met the young woman – but why was she found in his library?
Dolly calls on her friend, Miss Marple to help them in their time of need. Can she find the killer or is village gossip about Colonel Bantry true? Nothing seems certain, then another body is discovered….
The story flip-flops between characters. For awhile we follow the Inspector and then we will follow Miss Marple and/or Miss Bantry. This back and forth isn’t necessarily jarring but it seems to slow the action down. And I often found myself confused because there are just too many characters, and too many similar ones, at that. The police investigators are rather interchangeable, for example. Though there are points of interest, however, one being a man, Conway Jefferson, who lives with both his daughter-in-law and son-in-law. His children, who were married to them, were killed many years back and so he has taken to the two as a kind of surrogate family. In turn, the two eventually become somewhat irritated with their situations, feeling obligated to assume roles they no longer feel comfortable in. I can’t help thinking that this is a more profound and fascinating story. The examination of this splintered, makeshift family. Forget the murder mystery! The real substance lies in the exploration of life going on after death, following the spouses once they have migrated from coping to moving on and how Conway remains clingy and territorial. In fact, the murdered girl was one that this bereaved man chose to show an interest in, taking her on a daughter of his own. He was even about to go through the formalities of adopting her and adjusting his will.
As for the murder mystery itself, I must admit there was a certain predictability about it. I certainly didn’t guess all of the particulars but I did form a somewhat hazy conclusion early on. I suppose I found that strange “family” so interesting because the mystery came out as a dull.
I have only read one other Agatha Christie book–And Then There Were None–and I found that so much fun! I am certain to give her another try at some point because The Body in the Library seems to be one her lesser referenced novels and therefore, one can only assume that she has better stories out there because those are talked about so much more frequently, such as Murder on the Orient Express, or her other Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries.
I also read that Christie herself regarded The Body in the Library as a parody of sorts, since a body in a library is a most cliché storytelling technique. So I guess she just wanted to see if she could break through the cliché. I don’t know. I didn’t detect a cliché exactly, just a certain boredom. Though perhaps, that’s just the letting itself be known.