The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company and in the UK by Collins Crime Club in 1942.
Agatha Christie, in the foreword of the present book, explained how she always wanted to write a detective novel featuring the cliché of the body in the library, making the library a highly conventional one and the body a highly implausible one. She did just that and wove an engaging mystery with the unparalleled Miss Marple around the classic theme of an exotic blond woman, dead in a drab and highly respectable library in The Body in the Library.
The book features the recurring characters of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry, the former head of the Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering, Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack. The Bantrys and Sir Henry had previously been seen in the Miss Marple short story collection, The Thirteen Problems. Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack appeared in The Murder at the Vicarage. The vicar and his wife from The Murder at the Vicarage make a cameo appearance.
The theme of class difference plays a prominent role in The Body in the Library. For example statements like,
“…-well, to put it bluntly-… wasn’t a lady. She belonged to the class that wear their best cloths however unsuitable to the occasion…”
(to be fair the character does admit to not wanting to sound snobbish but says that it couldn’t be avoided) are made frequently in the book.
Miss Marple’s experiences with young girls comes in very handy during the course of the investigation. Also her being a woman gives her an advantage over the male detectives as they know nothing about dresses, make up and fashion- all of which play a crucial role in solving the mystery. The police represented by Colonel Melchett, Inspector Slack, Superintendent Harper and also Sir Henry Clithering do provide a lot of information but the solution ultimately hinges on Miss Marple, who presents the link that unravels the whole mystery.
None of the characters really stand out. Everyone seemed uniformly bland to me.
Among all the recurring characters Mrs. Bantry is as usual delightful. The teasing way Sir Henry interacts with Miss Marple is funny.
The identity of the criminal is not really that surprising but the twists that take the story there are surprising. The confusing, twisted clues does leave one’s head reeling a bit. I must confess that although I wasn’t surprised by the identity of the criminal I never saw the fundamental, big point of the mystery till Miss Marple explains it at the very end.
In the end, Christie did manage to put a very interesting spin on the cliché of the body in the library. The plot is very clever and Miss Marple is as good as ever. Very much recommended.