Plot summary Edit
The story starts with Mrs Dolly Bantry waking up from a pleasant dream, and noticing that the maid has not been in yet. Suddenly, the maid, Mary, dashes in, tearful and breathless, and informs Dolly that there is a body in the library, before running out again.
Colonel Arthur Bantry then goes downstairs and learns from his butler, Lorrimer, that there is indeed a body in the library, sees it, calls Police Constable Billy Palk, and then Mrs Bantry calls her friend, Miss Marple (revealing that the victim has been strangled).
Miss Marple is picked up by Mrs Bantry and her chauffeur, Muswell, and taken to Gossington Hall. There she sees the body. It is a very young girl with platinum blonde hair, with lipstick and painted nails like a gash, wearing an old but glittery, satin, cheap, black and white evening dress of rather poor quality, with silver sandals. The girl is also wearing a considerable amount of make-up. Soon, the police arrive, the senior officers being Detective Inspector Slack and the Chief Constable of the County, Colonel. Terence Melchett. Nobody in the household recognises the body, though.
Miss Marple states to Mrs Bantry, that a good suspect in the Bantrys' neighbour, Basil Blake, the son of an old school friend of Mrs Bantry's, who is mutually disliked intensely by Colonel Bantry. Basil is well known for dating a young platinum blonde girl, called Dinah Lee. Colonel Melchett visits Basil, but soon discovers that Dinah is not dead, as she comes and argues with Basil.
The autopsy arrives, revealing that the girl was strangled with the belt of her own dress, and that death took place between 10:00 and 12:00 at nighttime. She was also heavily drugged first. Despite her appearance, she died a virgin.
Finally, the body is identified as Ruby Keene, an 18 year old dancer who worked at a hotel called the Majestic in Danemouth. The body is identified by Ruby's great-cousin and colleague Josephine "Josie" Turner, who explains that she is dance and bridge hostess at the Majestic, but required Ruby to fill in a as dance hostess, due to Josie suffering injuries sustained to her ankle, whilst sunbathing. Ruby would just do the dancing with men, and the exhibition dances with Raymond Starr, the tennis and dancing pro. But the previous night, Ruby went missing, and Josie was forced to do the dance.
After Josie has visited Gossington, Mrs Bantry realises that the one who called the police was Conway Jefferson, an old friend of the Bantry's. Conway had a wife, a son, and a daughter (Margaret, Frank and Rosamund) all of whom were killed in a plane crash. Conway had both legs so badly injured, they were amputated. He lives with Frank's widow, Adelaide, Rosamund's widower, Mark Gaskell, and Peter Carmody, Adelaide's son from her first marriage. And then there is Edwards, Conway's valet. Mrs Bantry then decides that she and Miss Marple will go to Danemouth, stay at the Majestic, and find the killer.
Meanwhile, Melchett has appointed a new assistant, Detective Superintendent Harper. Together they interview Conway and discover that he was going to adopt Ruby, disinherit Mark and Adelaide, and settle £50,000 on her. Despite this, Mark and Adelaide both have alibis. They were playing bridge watching Ruby dancing.
Melchett and Harper interview George Bartlett, who was the last one to see Ruby alive, and who has had his car stolen.
Conway, now tired, orders Edwards to call Sir Henry Clithering. When Sir Henry arrives, Conway asks him to investigate. Sir Henry tells him about Miss Marple. Later after dining, Miss Marple tells Sir Henry that if the case is not solved, the Bantrys' lives will be ruined forever.
The police suspect that Ruby went to change to meet a boyfriend, who found out about her and Conway, making him panic and strangle her, leaving her at the Gossington library, and drives away to London. Sir Henry interviews Edwards, who tells him that he saw a snapshot of Basil Blake fall out of Ruby's handbag, making Conway and the reader suspect that Ruby had a lover.
Then, Bartlett's Minoan 14 car is found burning in Venn's Quarry, with a charred and blackened corpse inside. With a few scraps of clothing surviving burning, it is identified as Pamela Reeves, a 16 year old Girl Guide reported missing a few days. Pamela was last seen going to Wallworths. Miss Marple interviews Pamela's friends, and discovers that Pamela was actually going to a hotel, for a film test, after being approached by a "film producer", but Pamela never returned from this appointment.
Miss Marple then goes to Basil Blake's house and informs Dinah Lee that she has discovered that she and Basil are married and that Basil will be arrested for killing Ruby. Basil returns and confesses that after getting drunk and fighting with Dinah at a studio party, he returned and found Ruby lying strangled to death on "his" hearthrug. Panicking, he dumped Ruby in the Bantry's library. The police arrive and Basil is arrested.
Miss Marple, Sir Henry and the Bantrys once again book into the Majestic (they had briefly left), but this time with Colonel Bantry, Melchett and Harper. Miss Marple makes a quick trip to Somerset House (something about marriages) and ask Conway to tell Mark and Adelaide that he is leaving the money to a hostel for young dancers in London, and that he will visit a solicitor to finalize the details tomorrow. Conway does so, and they ask Det. Supt. Harper to keep a watch on people, with his men. Then the Bantrys and Miss Marple (along with the staff and other guests) retire for the night.
At 3:00 in the morning, someone breaks into Conway's bedroom, via the window and balcony, and tries to murder Conway by injecting him with poison, through a needle, but the attacker is stopped by Melchett, Harper and Clithering. But the intruder is not named.
Miss Marple then reveals all to the Bantrys, the Blakes, Melchett, Harper, Clithering, and the Jeffersons. Although nail clippings were found in Ruby's room, the girl in the library had bitten hers, which meant that the body in the library was not Ruby's. When Dinah mentioned Somerset House-marriage, Miss Marple found out that Mark was married to Josie. Upon finding out about Conway and Ruby, they decided to murder her and frame Basil. Mark and Josie approached Pamela regarding a film test, and when she accepted, they bleached her hair, put make-up on her, varnished her nails, put her into one of Ruby's dresses, and drugged her. Mark then slipped away to write letters, and drove down to the sea-front. But that was when he drove Pamela to Basil Blake's house, and strangled her. So when the doctor said the time she died, Mark and Josie had solid alibis, they were playing bridge watching the real Ruby Keene alive and dancing, and they did not leave the table until after midnight. Josie told Ruby to go and lie down in Josie's room. Ruby, as well, had been drugged. When changing for the dance, Josie murdered Ruby, either by strangulation, a poisonous injection, or a blow on the back of her head. In the early hours of the morning, Josie dressed Ruby in Pamela's Girl Guide uniform, stole Bartlett's car, drove to Venn's Quarry, and incinerated the lot.
In her Author's Foreword, Christie describes "the body in the library" as a cliché of detective fiction. She states that when writing her own variation on this theme, she decided that the library should be a completely conventional one while the body would be a highly improbable and sensational one. In light of these remarks, this novel can be considered a conscious reworking of the genre.
An unusual feature of The Body in the Library is that it has almost as many detectives as it has suspects. Although Jane Marple is the most famous character in the novel, and the person who ultimately solves the mystery, she does not fully enter the action until the half-way point of the novel. Even then she is not always the driving force of the investigation. The police are represented by Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack of the Radfordshire force, and Superintendent Harper of Glenshire. In addition, a second "amateur detective", the retired head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry Clithering, gets involved at the request of Conway Jefferson. Melchett, Harper and Sir Henry all play significant roles in advancing the investigation, and, through them, the reader often has access to significant information before Miss Marple does. In addition, Adelaide Jefferson's son, Peter Carmody, plays at being a detective and inadvertently provides a unique source of information.
Literary significance and receptionEdit
Maurice Willson Disher of The Times Literary Supplement was impressed in his review of 16 May 1942 when he said, "Some devoted souls may sigh for Hercule Poirot, but there are bound to be others who will be glad to find his place taken in the ‘new Agatha Christie’ by Miss Marple. What this relief signifies is that professional detectives are no match for elderly spinsters (not all so elderly), with some training in looking under the antimacassar, who are now very much in fashion. Even while making full allowance for this we find it hard not to be impressed by old-maid logic. When Miss Marple says, 'The dress was all wrong,' she is plainly observing facts hidden from the masculine eye – facts which are of a very lively interest. The Body in the Library should turn Hendon College co-educational.”
Maurice Richardson was not as impressed with Christie's efforts as usual in his 17 May 1942 review in The Observer when he concluded, "Ingenious, of course, but interest is rather diffuse and the red herrings have lost their phosphorescence."
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 21 March 1942 said, "It doesn't take long to read this one, but the two killings in it are made so mysterious that you will not want to lay the book down until the killer is caught." The reviewer concludes, "Police do a lot of probing, but it is the shrewd reasoning - intuition perhaps - of Jane Marple that finds the missing link and discloses a diabolical plot."
Robert Barnard: "Bravura performance on a classic situation. St Mary Mead regulars figure in the case, pleasantly diversified by fashionable seaside hotel guests and the film crowd. If you think what happens to the body after death is unlikely, try the more 'realistic' P.D. James' An Unsuitable Job for a Woman."
In Chapter 8 the author gives herself a namecheck from the mouth of the young boy, Peter Carmody. Explaining that he enjoys reading detective stories, Peter says that he has the autographs of Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and H. C. Bailey.
In the first episode of the second series ("And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea") of the television series Lewis, the body of a handyman is found in the Bodleian Library. DS James Hathaway comments to DI Robbie Lewis, "You realize what we've got, don't you, sir. ... The body in the library."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptationsEdit
- "The Body in the Library": The novel was first adapted for television by the BBC for the television series Miss Marple with Joan Hickson making the first of her acclaimed appearances in the role of Jane Marple. It was transmitted in three parts from 26-28 December 1984.
- In 2004, ITV adapted the novel as part of their ongoing Marple series. The version took various liberties with the plot of the novel, including changing the identity of the murderer and introducing a lesbian affair. It starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, James Fox as Colonel Bantry, Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry, Ian Richardson as Conway Jefferson and Jamie Theakston as Mark Gaskell.
- 1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1942, Hardback, 245 pp
- 1941, Collins Crime Club (London), May 1942, Hardback, 160 pp
- 1946, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, (Pocket number 341), 152 pp
- 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 924), 190 pp
- 1959, Pan Books, Paperback, 157 pp (Great Pan G221)
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1972, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 305 pp; ISBN 0-85456-102-1
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1942 UK first edition), November 7, 2005, Hardcover; ISBN 0-00-720844-8
The novel was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 10 May (Volume 213, Number 45) to 21 June 1941 (Volume 213, Number 51) with illustrations by Hy Rubin.
- Czech: Mrtvá v knihovně (The Dead Woman in the Library)
- German: Die Tote in der Bibliothek (The Body in the Library), special edition in 2004: Das Rätsel der Tänzerin (The Riddle about the Dancing Girl)
- Turkish: Cesetler merdiveni (The staircase of corpses)
- Italian: C'è un cadavere in biblioteca (There's a corpse in the library)
- French: Un cadavre dans la bibliothèque (The corpse in the library)