“The Body in the Library,” the second book in the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie, is, well, about a “body in the library.” But beyond this somewhat literal title, nothing in this novel is as it seems.
A flamboyant couple that appears to be in an illicit relationship are, in reality, husband and wife, secretly married to each other. A young widower, believed to be a sad single, has already tied the knot, without telling a soul.
When a garishly dressed young dancer is found strangled on the hearth rug, in the library, at the home of Arthur Bantry, a reticent, retired army colonel, everyone is stunned as to how she came to be dumped in such an incongruous setting, a room, bathed in bookish brown light. She’s identified as one Ruby Keene.
The police learn that she’s not a local and are able to track her down to the next town over, Danemouth, a posh seaside resort, a dozen miles away, which is believed to be the fictional version of Bournemouth.
Even before the police are anywhere near solving this murder, a schoolgirl is found charred in her car, in an abandoned quarry. Are the two cases connected?
Miss Jane Marple doesn’t actively appear on the scene, until halfway through the book. Asked by her friend, Mrs. Dolly Bantry, to accompany her to Danemouth, the epicenter of the two murders, she conducts her own independent sleuthing there.
The girl in the library, it turns out, isn’t who she was believed to be. The shrewd spinster is able to solve the mystery by looking at nothing, but her nails and dress.
It was one of the things that—well, that seemed wrong when I looked at the body. The hands were wrong somehow, and I couldn’t at first think why. Then I realized that girls who are very much made-up, and all that, usually have very long fingernails.
The victim had short, uneven nails that weren’t clipped—but bitten.
“Oh yes!” she said, “There was the dress. The dress was all wrong.
“Well, you see, it was an old dress … Now that’s all wrong.”
Assuming she was out on an assignation, outdoors, she’d have gussied up for the occasion. But this girl was in attire that wasn’t quite in keeping with the taste of girls of her social strata.
“A well-bred girl … is always very particular to wear the right clothes for the right occasion. I mean, however hot the day was, a well-bred girl would never turn up at a point-to-point in a silk flowered frock.”
“Ruby, of course, wasn’t—well, to put it bluntly—Ruby wasn’t a lady. She belonged to the class that wear their best clothes however unsuitable to the occasion.”
“I think that shed have kept on the frock she was wearing—her best pink one. She’d only have changed it if she’d had something newer still.”