20 April 2021

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie


   Inside, if this was the first time you had visited Bertram's, you felt, almost with alarm, that you had reentered a vanished world.  Time had gone back.  You were in Edwardian England once more.

I confess the above quote from the second page is the reason I was drawn to this book.  The other reason was for the descriptions of bountiful desserts and all things connected with long lunches.  Over the past few weeks at least three references have crossed my path about the cosy atmosphere at Bertram's Hotel and their menu.  Having spent half an hour reading other readers' reviews has been an education into the level of passion people have for Christie's writing.  For me personally, the mechanics of a mystery novel place second to the esthetics, so while this book doesn't rate very highly with aficionados I found it utterly charming and quite entertaining.

Set during the 1960s, Jane Marple's niece offers to pay for a holiday in Bournemouth but Miss Marple has her eye on London.  Remembering a stay at Bertram's Hotel with her aunt and uncle while still in her teens, she feels a tug of nostalgia and yearns for a return visit.  The rates wouldn't be too much of a pinch because it's November.

There were large crested silver trays, and Georgian silver teapots.  The china, if not actually Rockingham and Davenport, looked like it.  The Blind Earl services were particular favourites.  The tea was the best Indian, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Lapsang, etc.  As for eatables, you could ask for anything you liked - and get it!.

A fire constantly roars in the lounge outfitted with comfortable chairs, designed to allow a ladylike exit without clutching or groaning.  Elderly men wearing service medals, vicars, and minor aristocrats are the usual clientele.  A common sentiment runs through the minds of some....How can they afford the rates?  Apparently it's all part of a deceitful plan to create the image of a bygone era for American tourists but everyone seems to be quite happy about it.

Mr Humfries, a man in his fifties, is the face of Bertram's and orchestrates the day-to-day running of the hotel.  Miss Gorringe is the receptionist who never forgets a face, and recently a new porter has been hired - Michael Gorman.  A few of the more prominent guests at the hotel when Miss Marple arrives include Bess Sedgewick (without fear and reckless), Lady Selina (an acquaintance from St Mary Mead and widow of severely straitened means), Elvira Blake (heiress, still in her teens) and her guardian, Colonel Luscombe.  A European racing car champion named Ladislaus Malinowski is never seen without a black leather jacket so we can assume he's up to no good.   And last, but my favourite, is the bumbling and ridiculously absent-minded Canon Pennyfather.

He had recognized where he was.  In Bertram's Hotel, of course; where he was going to spend the night on his way to - now where was he on his way to?  Chadminster? No, no, he had just come from Chadminster.  He was going to - of course - to the Congress at Lucerne.  He stepped forward, beaming, to the reception desk and was greeted warmly by Miss Gorringe.

Thank goodness for Canon Pennyfather's housekeeper, Mrs Macrae, to keep him on track.  In real life this sort of person would irritate rather quickly but he's perfectly suited as a character in this book.

The point of an Agatha Christie novel is to deconstruct a crime but as crimes go this one is more high drama than anything.  There is an Irish Mail robbery, bigamy, a murder and a red herring disappearance that was more comic than frightening.  Detectives on the case were of the stereotypical male characterization usually found in Golden Age mysteries and Miss Marple's involvement was really quite minimal.  But did I care? - not a bit because I was here for the ambience, West End London and the dessert trolley.

So what sort of edible offerings were described, you might wonder?  Plenty of tea, properly poached eggs, fresh rolls served with butter stamped with a thistle, marmalade, honey, strawberry jam, coffee chocolate creams and castle pudding served with blackberry sauce.  Equally enjoyable for this anglophile missing Bloomsbury quite a bit these days is Miss Marple's day out to buy linens and visit both Chelsea and Richmond.  She's also embarrassed to admit a stop at Madame Tussaud's.  

I finished At Bertram's Hotel yesterday while sitting outside the dealership as they switched out my winter tires for the summer ones.  The waiting room was at capacity so I sat outside in the sunshine with a tote bag filled with essentials to pass the time.  Near the story's conclusion, with the drama at its crescendo, I was laughing out loud at the unlikeliness of it all but thoroughly enjoying every minute.  

My first Miss Marple but definitely not the last!

The Dessert Table by John Defett Francis (1815 - 1901)


  1. Your first Miss Marple???? I'm shocked. But I totally agree with you about the book--what a daft plot, but nevertheless a delicious escape. Of course we had to pay a visit to the hotel Dame Agatha supposedly based Bertram's on in London.

    1. If what I've read is true, that would be Brown's Hotel and now I need to see about afternoon tea there!
      You have every reason to be shocked, Scott....where has my head been all these years?
      Take care and have a lovely day!

  2. On my one trip to London I had a cocktail (not tea unfortunately) at Brown's Hotel and bought a copy of At Bertram's Hotel to read on the plane ride home. I'm overdue for a re-read. Also, if you can find it through the library, look for The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart. I promise that it will be your cup of tea.

    1. I read your comment while at work yesterday and quickly clicked on our website but no luck, darn it. But The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple has been added to my list of books to search for at second-hand shops, so thanks for the recommendation, Audrey!
      At Bertram's Hotel is a perfect story to pack for a plane ride and hopefully we'll both get back to London....goodness only knows when. All the best!