24 September 2012

Review: THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS, Agatha Christie

  • first published 1952
  • a Miss Marple story
  • this edition published in the Hamlyn Agatha Christie Crime Collection, published 1969
  • Source: my own books
  • 138 pages
Synopsis (from Christie site)

“They said it was an accident, but I think it was just temper!”
Ruth Van Rydock – They Do it With Mirrors

Ruth Van Rydock is very concerned about her sister. Carrie-Louise is living in a vast house that is now a home for 'delinquent' boys and Ruth is worried that her other-worldly sister cannot cope or worse - will come to harm.

She persuades their old friend Jane Marple to go and stay just to keep an eye on things. When there is a murder and Carrie-Louise's life is also threatened can Miss Marple live up to Ruth's expectations and bring a murderer to light?

My Take

Set in the period immediately after World War Two, some families are still incredibly wealthy, but great houses are struggling to survive. The Gulbrandsen Institute built in the grounds of Stonygates, that has been the home of  Jane Marple's old friend Carrie Louise through three marriages, has been re-purposed as a sort of secure reformatory for delinquent boys.

There are a number of people living as Carrie Louise's dependents, for she is the one with the wealth, and none of them seem to like each other very much. Ruth Van Rydock spins a tale to her sister that their old friend Jane Marple is a bit hard up and so Jane is invited to Stonygates for an extended stay. As it turns out the murders happen pretty quickly and Jane's presence doesn't do much to stop them. She is "recognised" by the investigating police  who learns about her from a colleague.  Even so I think there are two murders she may have thwarted had she reported a discovery quickly instead of deciding to do it the next morning.

The title is a bit of a red herring itself because it sends the reader off looking for doubles but that isn't quite its meaning. I thought the final resolution, the identity of the murderer, and how he achieved his ends, was actually a bit far fetched. However, there were clues, particularly in the "parallels" that Miss Marple narrates from her store of St. Mary Mead happenings.

Still, it is a quick and enjoyable read, with a bit of mind stretching as one would expect.
It gives an interesting picture of post-war England. You also learn a bit more about Miss Marple's youth, although she also reveals that she is a bit deaf.

My rating: 4.2

I read THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
I have now read 44 novels and 12 collections of short stories.
I aim at one title a month and so I calculate that I probably have about 30 months to go.

I think reading the titles in order of publication is helping me appreciate the development of Christie's main sleuths, particularly her early search for a character that she liked, and also to appreciate her as a social commentator.
So far we have been through the aftermath of two World Wars and the subsequent economic and social change that hit Britain in that period. Probably at the time the novels were written, readers didn't see Christie as a social commentator as she was reflecting the things they were thinking and feeling.


Donna said...

I've been reading Christie in order by sleuth. I like the idea of reading them in order by publication to see how she becomes a social commentator. I know she didn't like Poirot and did like Miss Marple. I know two of the mysteries were written during WWII (and kept in a vault as "insurance" or a "legacy" for her husband and son in case she was killed in the bombing of London) and published much later.

Peter Reynard said...

The social commentary aspect of Christie is something I really enjoy. She has that special skill of describing an entire society through the conversations and interactions of just a few characters. I remember some of They do it with Mirrors though like most Christie books I'd be hard pressed to name the murderer off the top of my head.


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