Lately, I have been re-reading Agatha Christie mysteries, which are comfortable cosies always fun to come back to when when is not in the mood for anything else. The latest in the list is not a Poirot like the last couple, but Miss Marple, At Bertram’s Hotel, which was a ‘buddy read’ with Rekha from the Book Decoder (here). This book (published in 1965), one of later Marple books, is set in Bertram’s, a hotel in London, which has managed to keep up its Edwardian facade, charm, and service, even many years after the war. Miss Marple is staying there as a treat, as always sent by her nephew Raymond West and his wife Joan (now themselves in their fifties). Almost as soon as she arrives, she begins to see red flags, and things not quite right, while the police (alongside) are investigating a string of daring robberies. When I last read this book (2017, as part of a Miss Marple Challenge on Goodreads), I wrote a full-length review (on Goodreads here), so this time, rather than writing another review (which will sounds pretty much the same), I’m just pointing out a few things that stood out to me on this read, or which I hadn’t picked up in my review last time. (Oh, and these aren’t really connected or in any particular order.)
- Popular culture: While I’ve noticed references to books in Christie’s works often (like Postern of Fate where she reminisces about a lot of her childhood books, or Cranford mentioned in Bertram’s as well as E.M. Hull’s The Sheik referred to in The Secret of Chimneys), but not much so other elements of popular culture, but this one mentioned a film (which Canon Pennyfather ends up watching), The Walls of Jericho (1948), and also the Beatles (who Colonel Luscombe disapproves of).
- Food: Usually when I think of food in books, I think of Enid Blyton, but Christie has her fair share too (take a look here), and Bertram’s is one where there is a lot of it, in the first part especially. Part of the hotel’s impeccable service is its food, which includes seed cake and muffins (real ones, not ‘American’ versions), doughnuts oozing real strawberry jam, and breakfast with beautifully poached eggs, creamy milk, and ‘a good sized round of butter’.
- ‘Air-station’: The word ‘air-station’ when I looked it up now seems to be used in the context of military/naval bases but in this book, it is used interchangeably with ‘air-port’. I haven’t looked it up yet, but it would be interesting to see how the usage changed, or whether both terms were always used simultaneously as in this book.
- Chesterton’s absent-mindedness: One of the characters in the book is Canon Pennyfather, absent-minded to the point of not knowing where he is or ought to be at any given time; In his context, Christie also brings up Chesterton’s absent-mindedness, which I found on looking up to be true; apparently he did often forget where he was supposed to be and telegraphed his wife to find out where he ought to be (wikipedia here).
- Age: Something I’ve been noticing in both Poirot and Marple, but largely the latter is how Miss Marple uses her age to her advantage since people don’t think her a threat in any way; in Bertram’s, Chief Inspector Davy too faces some age-related prejudice when his junior Inspector Campbell thinks that he was possibly ‘all right in his day’ (and wonders how he got to the position he is in); in the Chief Inspector’s case, his looks–‘large, heavy, bovine face’ and being as if he was just ‘up from the country’ serve to the astute man’s advantage.
- Plastic: Or rather the lack thereof–at the hotel, Miss Marple observes approvingly, ‘Not a bit of plastic in the place!’ but this (she knows) is part of the hotel’s attempt to preserve its Edwardian charm; today, of course it is everywhere, and a place with no plastic at all seems like a dream space, far in the future perhaps (and yet, a return to the past).
Re-reading, mysteries and especially Christie (but other books too), gives one an opportunity to pick up so many little things that one didn’t notice on previous reads or noticed but forgot all about. These were a few that I noticed on this visit to Bertram’s!
While this isn’t among my favourite Miss Marple books (favourites here), it was still a fun revisit!