They Do It With Mirrors (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: US: Dodd Mead, 1952, as Murder with Mirrors; UK: Collins, November 1952

Christie - They Do It With Mirrors.jpg

This tale of the murder of one of the Gulbrandesen trustees in a juvenile delinquents’ asylum, the principal intended victim the idealist Mrs. Serrocold, married to another trustee, is rather atypical Christie. Insp. Curry functions largely by means of “Marshy inquisitions” into who was where when, with none of Christie’s trade-mark adeptness at building up the motives of the flat characters shown — a grave charge of incompetence must be laid at his door, for he shows a very limited knowledge of ballistics. Miss Marple, a guest at Stonygates and friend of Mrs. Serrocold, hovers in the background for much of the story, but discovers the murderer’s hidden alibi, a conjuring trick worthy of Carr, and one which, as in Carr’s novels, the reader is given every opportunity of spotting.  (A familiarity with SPOILER Death on the Nile also helps.)  SPOILER Two improbable coincidences alert the reader sooner than is desirable: if the quarrel between Edgar Lawson and Lewis Serrocold was contrived by the murderer, the murder must of necessity have been unpremeditated, which is impossible; and the murderer’s failure to remove the letter for which we are supposed to believe the murder was committed exposes a red herring from the beginning.

Blurb (US)

Inspector Curry of Scotland Yard was quiet, serious and just a little bit apologetic.  Some people, particularly murderers, made the mistake of under-rating him.

Jane Marple was a sharp, vinegary spinster with a quick eye and a woman’s intuition when something was wrong.

Both were investigating a vicious, cold-blooded murder at Stonygates, where evil lurked in the atmosphere and in the house itself.  And it was the alert, bird-like Miss Marple who saw the truth, obliquely but clearly, like the reflection in a mirror, and brought about the surprising and inevitable conclusion.

Here is a masterful, thrill-packed mystery by an incomparable storyteller – the latest in Agatha Christie’s unrivalled chain of best-selling novels.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 30th November 1952): Miss Marple, who must by now be nearly as ancient and steeped in sin as that other elderly but rather less attractive spinster detective, Gagool, goes to stay with an old American school-friend who has turned her house into a college for juvenile delinquents.  (Mrs. Christie’s Devonshire neighbours may be disappointed to learn that it bears no resemblance to Darlington Hall.)  First half is lively and the trick alibi for the murder of the stepson neat enough; there is a marked decline in sprightliness later on, but half a shot is better than no dope.

New Yorker (13th September 1952, 120w): The author’s style is as brisk and persuasive as ever, but the plot this time may be a bit too intricate for all but the most confirmed addicts.

Chicago Sunday Tribune (Drexel Drake, 14th September 1952, 100w): Stilted characters in listless tale strikingly inferior to Agatha Christie’s long established level.

NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 28th September 1952, 120w): Mrs. Christie is, here as before, a contenting craftsman.  Her capacities for legitimate misdirection are meticulously founded upon incident and upon what she has chosen to suggest of character.  And she has a sharp ear for the diversities of tongue and tone to mark her creatures out neatly.

NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 28th September 1952, 60w): Slight disappointment, on the one hand, because it is more conventional than Mrs. Christie’s fine last two novels; high gratification, on the other, because so few writers are producing the pure puzzle-novel, and no one on either side of the Atlantic does it better.

Sat R (Sergeant Cuff, 4th October 1952, 20w): Clever character alignment, good suspense, but ending a mite contrived.

Yorkshire Evening Post: Needless to say Agatha has done it again.

Daily Telegraph: Pure detection with the unobtrusive Miss Marple ingeniously drawn in to lend a hand to the police.  It is another of her country house murder puzzles, set out simply with water-tight alibis—which are so absurdly easy to break when the expert Christie mind shows you how.

Sunday Times: As ingenious as ever.  Her writing still retains all its peculiar vivacity and freshness.

News Chronicle: As always, the neatest plot-making and the fairest trickery.

Scotsman: Brilliant, the clever plot, the unusual setting, and the natural characters.