At Bertram’s Hotel is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 15 November 1965 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50. It features the detective Miss Marple.
Miss Marple takes a two-week holiday in London, at Bertram’s Hotel, where she stayed in her youth. The hotel has a personality of its own, and a niche clientele of important church people, older women who lived through the Edwardian age, and girls looking for a safe place to stay in London. Miss Marple enjoys her trips around London, and learns that she cannot go back: life moves forward. She witnesses the complex lives of an estranged mother and daughter, and as always works with the police to solve crimes.
Bertram’s Hotel is popularly believed to have been inspired by Brown’s Hotel, where Agatha Christie often stayed when visiting London. However, Christie’s authorised biographer Janet Morgan asserted that Bertram’s was in fact based on the Flemings Mayfair hotel. Morgan cited correspondence between Christie and her agent Edmund Cork in which they decided to change the hotel proprietor’s name and the street in which Bertram’s was located in order to obscure the connection with Fleming’s.
Miss Marple is taking a two-week vacation in London, at Bertram’s Hotel, courtesy of her nephew Raymond West. In her youth, she had stayed at this hotel. Since the war, the hotel has been renovated to create a distinct Edwardian era atmosphere with the best of modern conveniences and the best staff. Miss Marple encounters a friend taking tea, Lady Selina Hazy. Selina is on the lookout for friends, yet often mistakes people who look like her old friends. Miss Marple sees the famous adventuress Bess Sedgwick, plus her daughter, the young and beautiful Elvira Blake with her legal guardian Colonel Luscombe. She also meets the forgetful clergyman, Canon Pennyfather. American tourists consider the hotel as really English. She sees race driver Ladislaus Malinowski stop at the desk, and several times notices his car. She sees him with Elvira Blake.
Elvira will inherit money from her father when she turns 21. Her mother is alive, but estranged by choice from Elvira. Elvira seeks to learn the size of her inheritance and who gets it if she dies. Lawyer Richard Egerton, one of her trustees, tells her about the great wealth awaiting her. She works a scheme with her friend Bridget to gain money to fly to Ireland to find some unspecified information, and goes there. It is unclear if she returns by train or by air.
On the same day that Elvira travels to Ireland, Canon Pennyfather is to attend a conference in Lucerne. He fails to go to the airport the day before, going on the day of the conference instead, with a now useless airline ticket. He returns to Bertram’s around midnight, disturbing intruders in his bedroom. He awakens four days later in a house far from London, and near the location of a recent overnight robbery of the Irish Mail train. He recuperates with a family unknown to him. His concussion blocks his memory of events. In an odd coincidence, some witnesses of the train robbery report seeing him on the train. When Archdeacon Simmons arrives and Pennyfather is still not home, he calls the police. Inspector Campbell is assigned the case, and is soon joined by Chief Inspector Davy, who sees links to unsolved crimes.
After the sergeant questions everyone at the hotel, Davy comes to ask more questions. He encounters Miss Marple; her observations of the hotel having an ambiance not just of the Edwardian era but of unreality match his. She tells him of seeing Canon Pennyfather at 3 am after she thought he had gone to Lucerne. She also tells him what she overheard while sitting in a public part of the hotel. Bess Sedgwick spoke with the hotel commissionaire Michael Gorman about their mutual past in loud voices. They had once been married in Ireland, which her family ended by parting them. She thought the wedding was not a legal marriage. But it was genuine, and her four further marriages were unwittingly bigamous.
On Miss Marple’s last day at the hotel, speaking with Davy, they hear two shots ring out, followed by screams outdoors. Elvira Blake is discovered next to the corpse of Gorman. Elvira says he has been shot dead while shielding her from the gunfire. The gun belongs to Malinowski.
Davy calls Miss Marple and Pennyfather back to London. She is in her room and he enacts his likely movements when she saw him in the hallway. She realises she saw a younger man, though with Pennyfather’s appearance, and recalls the German term doppelganger. This jogs Pennyfather’s memory; he remembers he saw himself sitting on a chair in his own hotel room, just before he was knocked unconscious. The criminal gang was counting on his absence, and reacted violently on his appearance.
Davy and Miss Marple confront Bess Sedgwick as the orchestrator of these daring robberies, along with the maître d’hôtel Henry, and Ladislaus Malinowski when fast cars were needed. The hotel staff co-operated, and the owners handled the money side of the thefts. Bess confesses not only to this, but also to the murder of Gorman. Making a run for it, Bess steals a car and speeds away recklessly, crashing fatally. Elvira was the second person in that public room, overhearing the conversation between her mother and Gorman. She thinks it invalidates Sedgwick’s marriage to Lord Coniston, and marks her as illegitimate and not the heiress. She wants to be wealthy so Ladislaus will marry her. However, her father’s will names her explicitly, information she never learned.
Miss Marple is not convinced Bess killed Gorman. She believes that Elvira killed him. Davy agrees and will not let her get away with the murder.
- 1965, Collins Crime Club (London), 15 November 1965, hardcover, 256 pp
- 1966, Dodd, Mead and Company (New York), 1966, hardcover, 272 pp
- 1967, Pocket Books (New York), paperback, 180 pp
- 1967, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), paperback, 192 pp
The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman’s Own in five abridged instalments from 20 November to 18 December 1965, illustrated with specially posed photographic layouts by Abis Sida Stribley. In the US the novel was serialised in Good Housekeeping magazine in two instalments from March (volume 162, number 3) to April 1966 (volume 162, number 4) with illustrations by Sanford Kossin and a photograph by James Viles.
At Bertram’s Hotel – First Edition Book Identification Guide
The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1965||At Bertram's Hotel||William Collins & Sons, London, ||First edition. "© Agatha Christie, Ltd., 1965" stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Red cloth lettered in gold. Price 16s.|
|1966||At Bertram's Hotel||Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, ||First American edition. "First published … 1966" stated on the copyright page. Red cloth lettered in gold. Price $ 4.50.|
Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:
UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.
US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.
Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.
At Bertram’s Hotel – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.