Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Body in the Library

I don't believe in conspiracy theories. It's not because I'm particularly cynical (or at least I don't think that's the reason), or because I was a scientist before I went to law school, but because I don't think the average person or group of people can pull it off. Most people aren't smart enough to develop the plan and the rest are usually too confident in their plan (or arrogant) to bother with trouble shooting. So the plan fails - some minor detail seems 'off' to an uninterested observer and the elaborate plot comes crashing down.

I'm in the minority, though, and maybe it's because I've read so many Miss Marple books. The fluffy-bunny spinster has one of the most finely tuned BS detectors in fiction. She picks up minor non-verbal cues and inconsistencies, and wraps them in seemingly inconsequential stories of people who've lived in St. Mary Mead. I can see her today, gently pointing out the flaws in some of the crazier theories that bounce around the internet and shocking the younger, more 'aware' people around her when her assertions turn out to be true.

The Body in the Library is Miss Marple's second full length novel and her third appearance (she debuted in the short story collection The Tuesday Club Murders), and while she's a bit softer than she was in those books, she's still a bit of a sharp-tongued gossip rather than the 'sweet aunt Jane' we meet in later volumes. One morning, a maid wakes Miss Marple's friend Mrs. Bantry from an early morning dream to announce, "There's a body in the library!" Naturally, she sends her husband to investigate and yes, there's the body of a heavily made-up girl in a satin dress, lying on the hearthrug. The girl turns out to be a dancer at a near-by resort, not a 'lady' but coincidentally about to be adopted by Conway Jefferson, a wealthy friend of the Bantrys.

Mr. Jefferson's widowed daughter-in-law and son-in-law are the natural suspects, as are a movie studio employee who's recently relocated to St. Mary Mead, a rather stupid young man staying at the resort, and the resort's dance and tennis instructor. Add in a missing Girl Guide, a few careless comments about teeth and nails, and Miss Marple not only solves the crime but points out how and why the criminal tried to frame one suspect who, in a panic, threw suspicion onto the Bantrys. It's simple common sense, something distinctly lacking in today's world.

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