32) Agatha Christie — The Body in the Library
Miss Marple novel with, yes, a body in the library. The library in question belongs to an old friend of Miss Marple, but the dead blonde doesn’t. Unfortunately for Colonel Bantry, it’s far too delicious a piece of tittle-tattle for the villagers to believe that the Colonel has never seen the girl before, and Mrs Bantry is well aware that her husband will be broken by the gossip if the real murderer isn’t found, even if the police believe him to be innocent. So her immediate reaction is to call in her friend Miss Marple for help.
The victim is soon identified, along with several people who might have had a motive to kill her. But those with strong motives have strong alibis, and those with weak alibis have weak motives. Adding to the confusion is the second murder of a young girl. Miss Marple has good reason to find the solution, both to clear the names of the innocent — and to prevent a third murder.
AS usual with Christie, many of the characters are cardboard, but very skillfully painted cardboard, with real motivations and consistent characterisations. One of the final elements really does seem to come out of nowhere, but the groundwork for it has been carefully laid. This is a beautifully constructed mystery, with all the clues you need, mixed in with a whole shoal of convincing red herrings.
The strength of Christie’s books is always her dissection of human behaviour, but here she’s particularly good at showing the dark side of the interest in gossip that Miss Marple uses to bring justice for the dead.
A week or so after reading the book, I listened to the abridged audiobook from Macmillan Digital Audio, read by Ian Masters. It’s a good abridgement on 3 CDs which manages to retain the necessary plot elements without signalling them too broadly, and Masters does a good job of reading the text. In particular, he manages to read the dialogue for the female characters without the over-exaggerated high pitch used by male actors on a few of the audiobooks I’ve listened to recently.