Wednesday, July 11, 2018

They Do It with Mirrors: Agatha Christie

I have been reading the Miss Marple books in order. In the first four that I read, Miss Marple was introduced later in the book. At first this confused me, I felt like she was an afterthought. Later I decided I liked that approach, so that we get to know the characters well before the sleuthing begins.

In They Do It with Mirrors, Miss Marple is on the scene from the beginning. The story opens with Ruth Van Rydock, an old friend of Jane Marple, requesting that Jane visit her sister, Carrie Louise Serrocold. Ruth has a feeling that something is wrong at Carrie Louise's home, Stonygates, and she wants Jane to visit there and check out the situation.

This is our introduction to Ruth.  She has been trying on an exquisite gown, while talking to Jane:
The elderly maid with the grey hair and the small pinched mouth eased the gown carefully up over Mrs. Van Rydock's upstretched arms.
Mrs. Van Rydock stood in front of the glass in her peach satin slip. She was exquisitely corseted. Her still shapely legs were encased in fine nylon stockings. Her face, beneath a layer of cosmetics and constantly toned up by massage, appeared almost girlish at a slight distance. Her hair was less grey than tending to hydrangea blue and was perfectly set. It was practically impossible when looking at Mrs. Van Rydock to imagine what she would be like in a natural state. Everything that money could do had been done for her - reinforced by diet, massage, and constant exercises. 
Ruth Van Rydock looked humorously at her friend. 
'Do you think most people would guess, Jane, that you and I are practically the same age?' 
Miss Marple responded loyally. 
'Not for a moment, I'm sure,' she said reassuringly. 'I'm afraid, you know, that I look every minute of my age!' 
Miss Marple was white-haired, with a soft pink and white wrinkled face and innocent china blue eyes. She looked a very sweet old lady. Nobody would have called Mrs. Van Rydock a sweet old lady.
After the first two chapters setting the story up, we leave Ruth behind, and move on to Stonygates. Carrie Louise is living there with her third husband, Lewis Serrocold, who runs a home for delinquent boys on the estate. Other relatives from her two previous marriages are living there or visiting. There are also people staying there who are employed at the school that Carrie Louise's husband runs. So, we have a large and confusing cast of characters. And eventually there is a murder, under very strange circumstances.

This was an interesting look at postwar England, when owners of large estates had difficulties keeping them running. Carrie's granddaughter Gina was sent to America during the war and met her husband, Wally, over there. They have only recently returned to England to live with Carrie Louise. Wally is not pleased with that situation at all. (Gina also seems to have every young male around madly in love with her.)

I should have known who did it. I even suspected, but as usual, Christie fooled me and kept me interested in other possibilities. All in all, this was an entertaining story and a different look at Miss Marple. Her connection with Ruth and her sister Carrie Louise was that they were at a European boarding school together, thus remained fast friends over the years even with little contact. I can picture that, although I never thought of Jane Marple as the product of a finishing school.

I read this book in a UK edition, with a lovely cover by Tom Adams. The title for the US edition was Murder with Mirrors.


Publisher:  Fontana, 1975. Orig. pub. 1952.
Length:     188 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Miss Marple, #5
Setting:     UK.
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     I purchased this book.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review, Tracy. One thing I like about this one is that we get to learn a little bit about Miss Marple's past. Something about that appeals to me. And, yes, Christie does a fine job of misdirection here...

TracyK said...

I am really enjoying Miss Marple stories lately, Margot. Christie almost always fools me.

Mathew Paust said...

First you persuaded me to try one of Wentworth's Miss Silvers, Tracy, and I have downloaded one, and now you've enticed me to try a Miss Marple! Alas, tho, now that I'm stuck with Martin Cruz Smith for the duration of the Arlady Renko series, I shall have to wait before dipping back into the Golden Age once again. So many books, so little time... :'(

TracyK said...

You should stick with Arkady Renko while you are enjoying the books, Mathew. I have the same problem, not enough time to read all the authors I want to read. But you should definitely try Miss Marple someday.

Rick Robinson said...

Hmm, my comment seems to have gone astray. Spam file, perhaps?

TracyK said...

I am sorry, Rick. I did not find anything in Spam under Comments except for a couple of old ones. Blogger has been behaving strangely lately. I am glad you let me know.

Clothes In Books said...

I never know what to make of this book, I always feel it is not as satisfying as it should be ... perhaps I should read it again and see if I like it better.

TracyK said...

I know what you mean, Moira, this one certainly doesn't have the same impact as the two Miss Marple books that preceded it. I thought maybe it was the huge cast of characters, but the other books have a large set of characters too. Possibly the story taking place at an estate rather than in a village?

col2910 said...

Probably not something I'll be rushing to try.

TracyK said...

I would not recommend this one for you, Col.