They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

June 2, 2009

do-it-with-mirrors Ever since I began my quest of reading all of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries in chronological order, I’ve especially looked for ward to the Miss Marple stories. Next to Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple is one of Christie’s best-loved recurring characters, and is a true fan favorite. I was particularly impressed with The Body in the Library, but felt that other novels featuring Miss Marple fell a little flat. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to reading They Do It with Mirrors, mostly because I’d heard that Marple figures prominently in the pages, unlike, say, The Moving Finger, where she makes a few cursory appearances. And while Miss Marple’s presence does make the book rather more interesting than otherwise, I couldn’t really get into the story very much.

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Jane Marple is approached by her friend Ruth Van Rydock, who tells Miss Marple that she’s worried about her sister Carrie Louise. Carrie Louise lives on a sprawling estate called Stonygates with her husband Lewis Serrocold, her daughter, granddaughter, and various other relatives. The estate is also home to a reform school of sorts, so there are numerous juvenile delinquents on the grounds as well. Ruth doesn’t have any solid evidence to think that Carrie Louise might be in danger, but she trusts her gut feeling and asks Miss Marple to spend some time at Stonygates to see what’s going on. Miss Marple agrees.

The amateur detective then starts interacting with all the other Stonygates inhabitants to get a feel for what they’re like and how they fit into the bigger picture of running the reform school. This takes a while since there are so many people involved, including Mildred Strete, Edgar Lawson, Julia Bellever, brothers Stephen and Alex Restarick, Gina and Wally Hudd, and Christian Gulbrandsen. All have their own little personality quirks, but seem to be decent people on the whole.

Then Christian Gulbrandsen is found murdered one evening after Edgar takes Lewis hostage in the library. Everyone’s attention was focused on Edgar and what he would do to Lewis, so when gunshots ring out in a different part of the house, they’re caught off guard. The police are called in to investigate, but while they take their sweet time with suspect interviews, Miss Marple goes to work putting together her own theories. Of course, she eventually figures out whodunit — though I hadn’t the slightest idea until the reveal!

Liked:

  • Readers got a bit of Miss Marple’s backstory here, including the fact that she went to finishing school and that she traveled extensively in her youth.
  • Even with so many characters involved, Christie manages to distinguish them enough that I was able to keep them straight (for the most part). I usually have trouble remembering who everyone is when such a large cast is involved, but not this time.
  • The setup for the murder was clever. Like everyone else, I was sure that Lewis Serrocold was toast, but that turned out to be simple misdirection for the real killer.
  • These novels are so much better when the featured detective plays a major role. Miss Marple was good here, and I rate this mystery second to The Body in the Library from the Marple novels I’ve read thus far.

Disliked:

  • This story took a heckuva long time to get off the ground. The murder doesn’t take place until page 78 — almost 40% into the novel, so it was kind of hard to get involved in what was happening.
  • The solution to the crime seemed rather far-fetched and implausible. I can understand the motive, of course, but the actual execution of the crime left a bit to be desired. Fake voices and play-acting? Really?
  • It was never explained why Ruth or Christian had a feeling that Carrie Louise’s life was in danger. It seemed odd that these people suspected poisoning when Carrie Louise, an elderly woman, exhibited signs of rheumatism and so forth. That part was a bit of a stretch as well.

Rating:

They Do It With Mirrors doesn’t rank very high in the Christie canon, but as I said, I think it’s one of the stronger Miss Marple novels (not counting short story collections here). There are a few problems with the crime and solution, but not a bad read on the whole. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie”

  1. christian was worried about CL getting heart broken by the accusation of her husband, that is why he was worried…

  2. And Ruth never suspected poisoning.She just instinctively felt something was wrong.

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