The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie)

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1. What is the genre?

Global—Crime > Cozy Murder Mystery > Master Detective

2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for the genre?


A MacGuffin: Mark Gaskell and Josephine Turner are secretly married and want their half of the £50,000.00 inheritance that Conway Jefferson was going to leave for both Mark (his son-in-law) and Adelaide (daughter-in-law) until he decided to adopt Ruby Keane, who is now the only heiress to his fortune.

Investigative Red Herrings:

Josie is secretly married to Mark, so that Mark can still receive all the (son-in-law) benefits of Conway’s generosity and look like the still-grieving husband of Conway’s late daughter and ultimately inherit half of his fortune when he dies, which could be any minute.

Mark Gaskell, acting as Basil Blake, entices schoolgirl Pamela Reeves to come for a “screen test” at the Majestic Hotel, telling her that he works for Lemville studios (where Basil works).

When Pamela arrives:

  • Josie bleaches Pamela’s hair blonde, does her makeup like Ruby’s, drugs her, and puts her in Ruby’s clothing.
  • Mark drives Pamela Reeves to Basil Blake’s cottage, breaks in, and strangles her, which looks like a crime of passion that people will immediately assume was done by Basil.
  • Mark drives back to The Majestic Hotel, and plays bridge while Ruby is still in view in the room after her dance on stage.
  • Josie gets Ruby to clip her long nails short to match those of Pamela
  • Mark plays bridge until Ruby “goes missing.” He has a strong alibi: she went missing while he was in sight.

After Ruby goes missing:

  • Josie says to Raymond (her dance partner) that “she’d” better not be with that “film fellow,” thereby planting the seed of Basil Blake as the murderer in his mind.
  • Josie drags Ruby’s drugged body through the adjoining bathroom into her own room. She exchanges her clothes for Pamela’s Girl Guide uniform making her look like Pamela. She puts Ruby’s dress over a chair making it look like Ruby changed and left to meet someone.
  • Mark and Josie take Ruby’s body to Venn’s quarry in George Bartlett’s car. They strangle her and set the car ablaze.

When Basil Blake gets home he is drunk and he finds a body on a rug in front of the fireplace. He takes the body and puts it in Bantry’s library as a joke because he doesn’t like him.

Later Josie identifies Pamela’s body as her cousin Ruby’s. She also says, “What swine men are,” implying that a boyfriend did it.

The police assume that the charred body in Bartlett’s car is missing Girl Guide Pamela, as they find part of a schoolgirl shoe and a Girl Guide button.

Making it Personal: Josie and Mark need the investigators to get “their man,” whom they have set up to be Basil Blake. If the cops think he did the murder, the focus will be taken off them and they will still stand to inherit the money without suspicion.

Clock: Miss Marple needs to solve the case quickly so that Mr. Bantry’s reputation is saved before gossip destroys it. When the “Girl Guide’s” murder is revealed, Miss Marple predicts a third and the pressure is on to catch the murderer before that can happen. Also, Miss Marple has Conway publicly announce that he’s changing his will “tomorrow,” and that he will give all his money away to a cause that would have supported a dancer like Ruby. This will force the killer/s to try to kill him tonight, so that his fortune will stay with the next of kin (Mark/Adelaide/Josie by marriage).

Sub-Genre-specific conventions—Cozy Mystery:

  • The investigator/protagonist is usually a woman and an amateur who cares about other people, proving that average people can make a difference: Miss Marple is concerned that her friends Mr. and Mrs. Bantry will be    accused of murder if she doesn’t help solve the mystery of the dead girl. She doesn’t use scientific skills. She uses “specialized knowledge,” a series of parallels taken from village life that help her connect the dots to other people and situations to better understand the crime.
  • Profanity, sex and physical violence is downplayed or treated humorously: There is no sex in the killings and no showing of violence. All we know is that the girls were strangled. The investigators see a victim’s blue face and the remains of an incinerated body. There is no harsh language except the word “bitch” used by Dinah Lee.The body in Mr. Bantry’s library is found to be a virgin, but even that is said in Latin: “Virgo intacta.”Punishment for the crimes – hanging – is only referred to and certainly not seen, despite the fact that Miss Marple is really looking forward to it.
  • Crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community: St. Mary Mead is a small village near the coast of the British Riviera.Colonel Melchett is friends with Colonel Bantry, yet he is investigating the murders. Everyone knows about the body and Marple knows what kind of fights Basil and Dinah have – “no secrets in a village.”
  • Unsuspecting victim: Everyone in Conway’s family treated Ruby Keane well. She had no suspicions that someone might kill her. Also, Pamela the girl guide was going for a film test as far as she was concerned. She was excited with no thoughts that her life was in danger.
  • Quirky supporting cast: George Bartlett can’t remember if he went for a walk or not, if he went for a drink or not. A drive – definitely not. Women are bored by him, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
    • Mrs. Bantry is very excited to have her own murder to focus on.
    • Basil Blake is unconventional with his weird way of dressing, his blonde girlfriend from London, his long black hair, and crazy parties.
    • Mark Gaskell says all the wrong things for a prime suspect: “I could have wrung her neck.”
  • The Villain is rarely an evil person: But, in this case, they are. Josie and Mark kill Josie’s own cousin and an innocent schoolgirl for money.
  • Community bands together for what is right: Investigators unite with Miss Marple and work with her respectfully. Sir Henry Clithering calls her into consultation, as he is very familiar with her fame as a sleuth. They give her power and do what she advises them, including the plan that catches the killer.
  • Humour: Humour is everywhere in this novel. Here are some examples: Dolly Bantry says to Miss Marple, “If one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it.”When Mrs. Bantry brings Miss Marple to look at the dead body, P.C. Palk says, “I’m afraid nobody is allowed in, madam. Inspector’s orders.” Dolly replies, “Nonsense, Palk… After all it’s my library.” He lets them in despite his position of authority.Miss Marple brings up Basil Blake as a suspect and Dolly brings up his mother, “Oh, no!.. her herbaceous borders are simply marvellous.” 
  • Happy ending: Mr. Bantry’s reputation is saved.Conway leaves his wealth to his innocent daughter-in-law Adelaide and her son Peter.Marple is celebrated for solving the crime.
  • Justice is served: Mark and Josie are caught and will be punished for the two murders by hanging.

Obligatory Scenes

An Inciting Crime: A body is found in Mr. Bantry’s library. She is blonde, has tawdry taste, and has been strangled.

Speech in Praise of the Villain: Colonel Melchett thinks Josie is good-looking, “competent and good-tempered” and that she is pleasant, friendly, and shrewd. Mr. Prescott, manager of The Majestic Hotel in Danemouth, says he has a high regard for Josephine Turner (Josie) and “depends upon her ability to calm the bridge players.

Discovering and understanding the Antagonist’s MacGuffin: Miss Marple goes to Somerset House to look for a record of marriage for Mark and/or Adelaide. There she finds that Mark is secretly married to Josie. There is only one reason to keep that a secret: the money, since she knows that Conway would disown him should he remarry. Josie’s anger towards her dead cousin Ruby is now making sense, as Ruby would have inherited the money she and Mark were expecting by ingratiating herself enough to have Conway planning to adopt her.

Progressively Complicated Following of the Clues:

  • There’s a dead body in Mr. Bantry’s Library, wearing a white satin dress, lots of gaudy makeup, and has unnaturally bleached hair.
  • Despite having ostensibly come through the forced window, the dead girl is not dressed for burglary but rather for dancing.
  • Lately Basil has been bringing a platinum blonde home with him from London on the weekends.
  • Dr. Haydock says there was no struggle, so she may have been drugged, and the murder took place between 10-12-midnight
  • Arthur Bantry has no alibi for 10p.m. to 12a.m., as he had trouble with his car. When he came home everyone was in bed.
  • Three women were reported missing yesterday: Mrs. Saunders who ran off with some bloke, Mrs. Bernard who is 65, Pamela Reeves who is a 16-year-old Girl Guide with dark hair in a pigtail.
  • Melchett gets a call from The Glenshire Police (adjoining county). They report a girl missing from the Majestic Hotel in Danemouth, 5’4”, blonde and blue, wearing a long white dress, silver sandals… Her name is Ruby Keane.
  • Inspector Slack drives to Danemouth and brings Josie Turner back with him, Ruby’s closest relative, in order to ID the body as that of Ruby Keane, which she does even though it is Pamela Reeves.
  • Colonel Melchett notes that Josie is not grief-stricken, but that she is angry.
  • Ruby did the exhibition dance the night before at 10.30 with Raymond. After midnight, Ruby hadn’t turned up for the second dance. Josie didn’t go to the police. Mr. Jefferson did.
  • Note given to Melchett by Slack that reads: Col. Bantry dined at the Majestic last week.
  • Melchett brings Josie to Gossington Hall and neither she nor Mr. Bantry show a hint of recognition. That rules him out as a murderer for the most part.
  • Josie seems confused by where the body was found. She says, ‘It isn’t the sort of place.” Miss Marple finds her reactions interesting.
  • Inspectors are told that Ruby got on with older people like Mr. Jefferson, who reported her missing. Josie didn’t like it.
  • Mark tells Col. Melchett to keep Conway calm, as he has a heart condition and could die of a heart attack by just being startled.
  • Mark and Adelaide have a motive: Fifty thousand pounds, but their alibis are solid.
  • George Bartlett reports that his car has gone missing: Minoan 14.
  • Raymond tells Superintendent Harper that Josie said, “She’s not with that film fellow, is she?” Raymond says that Basil works in film and that he danced with Ruby once or twice
  • A burnt-out car (Minoan 14) is found in Venn’s quarry – about 2 miles away from The Majestic – with a charred body inside.
  • Mark says about Ruby, “If anyone had an interest in seeing that girl dead it was Addie and myself.” Mark describes Ruby as having, “teeth running down her throat, which is the opposite of what Miss Marple saw on the girl in the library whose teeth protruded.”
  • Peter Carmody shows Sir Henry a souvenir from the murder: a finger nail. Miss Marple says the nails have been troubling her, as a girl like the one found in the library usually has talons. if she tore one, she might clip the others to match, but the girl in the library had chewed nails, not clipped.
  • Harper is looking at another tragedy: a blazing car in Venn’s quarry with someone burnt inside. At first, Miss Marple says that will be the Girl Guide. She’d have to pass through Danemouth to get home. She believes the murders are connected. Marple predicts a third.
  • Only part of one foot and shoe and a girl guide button has escaped being burnt. Harper immediately thinks it is Pamela Reeves. The surgeon thinks she was dead when put there. Petrol was poured over the car and the whole thing deliberately set alight.
  • Harper and Melchett discover that Mark and Adelaide are both financially distressed, which they shouldn’t be because Conway gifted them a large amount of money when they each married his children. Mark is a gambler with large debts and Adelaide’s husband invested poorly. But their alibis are strong.
  • Haydock tells the investigators there is no flexibility on the time of death. Melchett says we can’t make a case against anybody, as everyone either has a strong alibi or no motive or both. They can’t solve it.
  • Adelaide calls Ruby a little gold digger and says she was angry when Ruby moved in on Conway. It meant she and her son Peter would be disinherited. She says, “I could have killed her!”
  • Mark says to Sir Henry Clithering, “It’s a lucky thing for me that somebody strangled that poor kid.” He knows that he is suspect number one. And Sir Henry says, you’ve got that useful thing, an alibi.” To which Mark replies, “An alibi is the fishiest thing on God’s earth! No innocent person ever has an alibi!” He also says that Ruby probably had a boyfriend and that if Jefferson had found out that she was deceiving him, then look out. He describes Conway as a benevolent despot, “Others dance to his tune.”
  • Dr. Metcalf confirms that a sudden shock or strain would likely kill Conway because his heart is in bad condition.
  • Sir Henry confirms that nail clippings were found in Ruby’s wastepaper basket. Miss Marple tells him that it seemed wrong when she looked at the body, as the girl had bitten nails but we know that Ruby’s nails were clipped. There is a big difference between bitten and clipped.
  • She adds that the dress was wrong. It was an old dress. If Ruby went on a date why was she wearing an old dress. A girl of her (low) class would wear her best dress even if it was inappropriate to the situation.
  • Miss Marple doesn’t think that Ruby can have had a boyfriend without everyone knowing about it at The Majestic
  • Sir Henry talks to Edwards, Conway’s valet, and finds out that he has seen Conway in rages; the one thing that the rich man cannot stand is deceit.
  • He tells Sir Henry of one incident with Ruby: a small photograph of a young man with an untidy appearance fell out of her purse: Basil Blake. Ruby said she didn’t know anything about it but Conway insisted she did. She said that she did know him and that he must’ve slipped the photo in her purse. Edwards doesn’t think Conway believed her.
  • Harper interviews other Girl Guides while Marple watches and picks out the liar: Florence Small, who confesses that she is holding a secret. Pamela was going for a film test with a guy who works at Lemville Studios. She was to meet him at his hotel and do a small test.
  • Back at Saint Mary Mead, Marple goes to Basil’s cottage and advises Dinah not use her maiden name anymore, that she should admit to her marriage. Dinah doesn’t understand how she knows and asks her if she went to Somerset House?
  • The police arrive and arrest Basil. He admits to putting the body into Bantry’s library, as it was on his rug when he got home. He was afraid Dinah would come in and think he’d killed her.
  • Miss Marple goes to Somerset House and finds a record of Mark’s and Josie’s secret marriage.
  • Upon hearing that Conway is changing his will to redirect the money again out of Mark and Josie’s hands, Mark goes to London to visit friends… another good alibi.

The protagonist is actively trying to solve a crime or a puzzle:

  • The police are deadlocked on their suspects. All the people with strong enough motives have very good alibis. However, Miss Marple sees a bigger puzzle with more clues because of her experience with girls and her understanding of girly things. After all, the other investigators are all men.
  • Because she knows which Girl Guide is lying she finds out that Pamela was going to a screentest, not to Woolworths.
  • Marple knows that a girl of low class, like Ruby, would have been wearing her “best dress” if she were meeting a boyfriend, not the old white one that the body was found in.
  • Marple knows the difference between bitten nails and cut nails, and can deduce that the girl in the library wasn’t Ruby, which also means Josie lied and that the girls had been switched in order to create a good alibi for Mark and herself when Ruby went missing.
  • The police also missed that Ruby’s teeth “run down the back of her throat,” as described by Mark. But Marple saw that the girl in the library had protruding teeth.
  • From actively going to Dinah Lee and challenging her about being married, with her observations that married folk argue differently than unmarried ones, she gets information that leads her to Somerset House where she finds that Josie and Mark are married.

Exposure of the Criminal:

  • Upon discovering that Mark is secretly married to Josie, Miss Marple urges Sir Henry to have Conway announce that he is changing his will tomorrow and leaving the money to a worthy cause. Marple predicts that this will force the murderers to try to kill Conway before he gets to change the will.
  • Mark leaves to visit friends, giving himself another alibi, while Josie sneaks into Conway’s room with an injection of digitalis that will surely give him a heart attack, but she is stopped just in time by the hand of the law and the whole charade is over.

Brought to or Escapes Justice: Both Mark and Josie are charged with murder and will be hung for what they did.

Learn more about obligatory scenes and conventions.

3. What is the point of view?

POV: Traditional third person omniscient. Narrated from a distance.

Learn more about point of view.

4. What are the objects of desire?

External/Conscious: She wants to find the killer/s and bring them to justice and save the reputation of her friends Mr. and Mrs. Bantry.

Internal/Subconscious: To restore safety to St. Mary Mead and Danemouth.

Learn more about objects of desire.

5. What is the controlling idea / theme?

Justice prevails when we stick to the facts and don’t trust what anyone says during times of great suspicion.

Learn more about controlling ideas.

6. What is the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff?

Beginning Hook – Upon hearing that a dead body has been found in Arthur Bantry’s library, Miss Marple rushes to her friend Dolly Bantry’s side in order to be of support, but when she meets the dead girl’s cousin, Josie Turner – who identifies the girl as Ruby Keane from The Majestic Hotel – Marple becomes suspicious, as Josie shows anger towards Ruby but no grief at her death. So, when Mrs. Bantry asks Marple to spend the weekend with her at The Majestic the prim little spinster chooses not to disappoint and the old friends set off to do some restful sleuthing to discover the truth and this decision is further validated when Sir Henry Clithering calls Miss Marple into consultation.

Middle Build – When she hears news of a blazing car that contains a charred body inside, Miss Marple assumes it to be that Girl Guide Pamela Reeves who went missing around the same time as Ruby, but from using her sharp understanding of girls and her gift of making village parallels she realizes that she is wrong, as the timeline of death is off with respect to the most obvious suspects, so in sorting out the puzzle of details about nails and dresses and makeup, she determines that the two girls were switched and made to look like one another, which in turn created a fake alibi for the killer, and now Miss Marple knows who that is, but she still has to prove it.

Ending Payoff – Upon learning that Pamela was going to a screen test for Lemville Studios when she went missing, the case refocuses on Basil and, knowing he is innocent, Miss Marple rushes to prepare Dinah Lee, who admits that she was secretly married to the intrepid set decorator through Somerset House, at which point he walks through the door and is arrested, so Miss Marple visits Somerset House and finds that Mark is also secretly married – to Josie! This gives Marple all that she needs to persuade Conway to pretend his will is changing tomorrow and that it will exclude all family members from his fortune, giving the murderer one last chance to kill and collect; Josie is arrested while trying to inject Conway with digitalis while he sleeps and both Mark and Josie are charged with murder and expected to hang for their crimes.

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About the Author

Tanya has always worked in the entertainment industry. Her first career as an actress led her to writing screenplays, after which she moved into the world of television writing and eventually novels. She loves The Story Grid Methodology and is excited to share it with others in order to help them improve their work. Her main focus as an editor is to save writers the ten-twenty years that it took her to find solutions to story problems. She looks forward to helping other writers improve their work quickly, taking their scripts or novels from good to great! Tanya loves bold, provocative work that pushes boundaries in any genre. She especially loves strong, imperfect protagonists and fascinating villains. Her absolute favourite genre is the Thriller. Tanya's website is currently under construction, but if you would like to contact her, she can be reached at [email protected]
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