They Do It with Mirrors

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They Do It with Mirrors
They Do it with Mirrors.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
1952
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 187 pp (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by Mrs McGinty's Dead
Followed by A Daughter's a Daughter

They Do It with Mirrors is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1952 under the title of Murder with Mirrors[1][2] and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on 17 November that year[3] under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.50[2] and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6).[3] The book features her detective Miss Marple.

Plot summary[edit]

Jane Marple is paying a visit to her old friend Ruth Van Rydock, a wealthy, oft-married socialite, whom she went to school with in Italy, along with Ruth's sister Carrie Lousie, a woman who has always been attracted to men who had their minds on noble causes. During the visit, Ruth voices her worries that there is something wrong at her sister's home at Stonygates, a Victorian mansion that Carrie Louise has outright ownership of, but cannot give any real reason for these worries, only that she fears that her sister is in some kind of danger. Ruth therefore asks Miss Marple to visit her and find out what is going on.

Travelling to Stonygates, Carrie Louise is delighted to have Miss Marple visit her. Jane learns that the mansion has been converted into a home for delinquent boys, all of whom are involved in theatrical productions and many other activities around the estate during the day, but at night they are confined to their own quarters. The central block of the mansion is reserved to Carrie Louise's family, who include Lewis Serrocold, her third husband, and the man who runs the reformation program at Stonygates, fully devoted to the idea of reforming juvenile delinquents and teaching them how to contribute to society; Mildred Strete, her daughter from her first marriage, and her only blood relative; Stephen and Alex Restarick, her stepsons from her second marriage (which ended in divorce), and frequent visitors to the estate; Gina, her adopted grand-daughter whose mother Pippa, Carrie Louise's adopted daughter, died after her birth; Walter Hudd, an American married to Gina, who recently returned to Stonygates; and Juliet Bellever (nicknamed Jolly), a long-time companion, caretaker, and friend of Carrie Louise, who is a permanent fixture at the mansion. Also frequently present in the mansion is Edgar Lawson, Lewis Serrocold's assistant, and an awkward young man whom the others dismiss as pompous, as well as being half-mad because of several occasions in which he confided to others that he is the illegitimate son of a great man, and claimed that powerful enemies are conspiring to keep him from his rightful position.

While at Stonygates, Miss Marple witnesses Mr. Serrocold receiving an unexpected visitor in the form of Christian Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louise's stepson from her first marriage, and a member of the Stonygates Board of Trustees; her first husband, Mr. Gulbrandsen, was a great philanthropist, and left a fortune for her in trust. Everyone assumes he is there on business, but nobody is sure exactly why. After dinner, following his arrival, Christian retires to his guest room to type a letter, while Miss Marple and the others gather in the Great Hall. At that moment, a fuse blows out, and Walter goes off to repair it. Suddenly, Edgar Lawson bursts into the darkened room, screaming that Lewis Serrocold is his real father, forcing him into his study and locking the door behind him. Everyone listens intently as Edgar screams accusations at Mr. Serrocold, before hearing multiple gunshots. When the door to the study finally opens, everyone is surprised but relieved to see that Mr. Serrocold is alive and well, while Edgar is in tears, and that there are several bullet holes in the walls. However, when Miss Bellever goes to check on Christian, she finds him dead, having been shot at his typewriter, with the letter he had been writing having mysteriously disappeared.

When the police arrive at Stonygates, Lewis reveals to the police that he had taken the letter, intent on keeping his wife from learning of its contents. He explains that both he and Christian had been both concerned that Carrie Louise's recent poor health was due to deliberate poisoning. At that point, Alex Restarick arrives, whereupon police question him over his sudden arrival, and find that there is an unaccounted period of time between his arrival in his car and his appearance in the Great Hall. As the investigation into the murder continues, Alex makes remarks about stage scenery that lead to Miss Marple reflecting on all kinds of stage illusion, such as conjurers who perform magic by using mirrors and stage sets and assistants who are in on the trick. Soon afterwards, Alex is murdered, along with a boy who claimed to have seen something on the night of the murder. When Miss Marple considers Alex's remarks in more detail, she realises how the murder of Christian was committed, why Alex was murdered, and who the culprit is.

It transpires that Lewis Serrocold was the murderer. Christian had discovered that he was embezzling from the Gulbrandsen Trust, thus he had to be silenced before this revelation became public. To do this, Lewis involved Lawson, who was in fact his illegitimate and unacknowledged son, into staging a scene for everyone in the Great Hall, using illusion and misdirection. Once in his study, with everyone focused on the study door, Lawson used his acting talent and different voices to continue both sides of their loud argument by himself, while Serrocold left via a terrace outside the study, re-entered the house unseen, and killed Christian. The attempted poisoning of his wife was merely a red herring, an explanation Serrocold hastily concocted to explain Christian's sudden arrival. Alex's murder was mainly because he had worked out what happened "behind the scenes" and thus could have easily exposed Serrocold's crime.

When confronted by the police, Edgar Lawson panics and flees the house, jumping into an old boat in an attempt to cross a lake on the property. The boat is rotted though, and as it begins to sink, Lewis Serrocold jumps into the lake to rescue his son. Both men are caught in the reeds that line the lake, and drown before police are able to rescue them, bringing an end to the case.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 30 November 1952 summed up thus: "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."[4]

Robert Barnard: "Unusual (and not entirely convincing) setting of delinquent's home, full of untrustworthy adolescents and untrustworthy do-gooders. Christie not entirely at home, perhaps because she believes (in Miss Marple's words) that 'young people with a good heredity, and brought up wisely in a good home…they are really…the sort of people a country needs.' Otherwise highly traditional, with houseplans, Marsh-y inquisitions, and second and third murders done most perfunctorily. Definite signs of decline."[5]

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

Several adaptations were made of the book for TV and Film:

  • A second adaptation of the book was made for the BBC series Miss Marple starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, Jean Simmons as Carrie-Louise Serrocold, Joss Ackland as Lewis Serrocold and Faith Brook as Ruth van Rydock; first broadcast on 29 December 1991. The film was basically faithful to the novel, with the exception that Alex survives the attack on his life. Also, Ruth van Rydock is present at the house when the first murder takes place and Lawson attempts to swim across the lake, and does not use a rotted boat.
  • A third adaptation was made for the fourth season of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple, starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, Penelope Wilton as Carrie Louise, Brian Cox as Lewis Serrocold, and Joan Collins as Ruth Van Rydock. It was broadcast on 1 January 2010. This adaptation has several notable changes and additions:
    • Alex Restarick is replaced by Johnny Restarick, Stephen's father and Carrie Louise's ex-husband. Rather than arriving after the murder, Johnny arrives near the end of the confrontation between Lawson and Lewis and disarms Lawson, just before Mr. Gulbrandsen's murder is revealed.
    • While Edgar Lawson's character and role in the murders remains unchanged, his death toward the end was changed slightly in two ways - firstly, he is exposed for his involvement in the murders by Miss Marple, rather than confronted by the police, and secondly, he doesn't use a rotted boat to escape, but merely attempts to swim over the lake on the property. Lewis' efforts to rescue him remain unchanged.
    • Pippa is deleted and Gina becomes Carrie Louise's adopted daughter in this version, rather than her adopted granddaughter.
    • Gina's real mother was changed for the adaptation - her name was changed to Katherine Ellsworth, and her death was explained to have been from a hanging, after she was found guilty of committing arsenic poisoning on three counts. Gina discovers this fact and exposes her connection to it, moments before Alex's death, and how she found it out is revealed, by Miss Marple's investigations, to be the fault of Mildred, who had resented her being given more attention than her.
    • While the confrontation scene between Lawson and Lewis still was basis for the first murder and retained certain elements from the original plot, it was modified considerably for the adaptation:
      • Everyone, bar Mr. Gulbrandsen, goes to the study to witness a dress rehearsal, not to the Great Hall, and so witness in person the confrontation between the two men.
      • Lawson's reason for confronting Lewis is changed; he accuses Lewis of spying on him, rather than being his real father.
      • Wally is made the initial suspect in the murder, owing to his absence to fix the fuses and the murder weapon being his. The police only begin to look elsewhere, and later to Johnny, when Gina reveals the study has a secret passage that links it to the hallway; Miss Marple explains in her denouement that the passage was merely a red herring, before explaining Lewis' crimes.
    • A new character was included in the adaptation - Whitstable Ernest, a young man serving time for fraud and embezzlement. Ernest helped Lewis with his financial corruption in exchange for rewards such as oysters and alcohol. When Lewis knew that Mr. Gulbrandsen was going to expose him, Ernest torched all the records of his actions, which Miss Marple suspected when she smelt petroleum in the secret passage. When Johnny began to question Ernest, Lewis realised the danger he could create and so gave him oysters laced with arsenic; this did not kill him, but merely kept him out of harm's way (the adaptation had only two deaths, not three like the original plot).
  • Some elements of the plot were also incorporated into the 1964 film Murder Ahoy!, which starred Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, along with a token tribute to The Mousetrap. Instead of a sprawling Victorian estate, the delinquent boys are housed on board a retired ship called the Battledore, and they go ashore periodically to commit mischief under the direction of their criminal mastermind. Apart from these elements, however, this film is not based on any of Christie's works.
  • There is also a French television production. "Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie", season four. "Jeux de glaces", which literally means "Game of Mirrors".

Publication history[edit]

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
  • 1952, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1952, Hardback, 187 pp
  • 1952, Collins Crime Club (London), 17 November 1952, Hardback, 192 pp
  • 1954, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 165 pp
  • 1956, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 187 pp
  • 1966, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 224 pp
  • 1969, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 223 pp
  • 1970, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 223 pp
  • 1974, Pan Books, Paperback, 187 pp
  • 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1952 UK first edition), 7 November 2005, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720847-2

A condensed version of the novel was first published in the US in Cosmopolitan magazine in the issue for April 1952 (Volume 132, Number 4) under the title Murder With Mirrors with illustrations by Joe Bowler. In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in six abridged instalments from 26 April (Volume 91, Number 2391) to 31 May 1952 (Volume 91, Number 2396) with illustrations by George Ditton.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
  2. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  3. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
  4. ^ The Observer, 30 November 1952 (p. 9)
  5. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 207). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  6. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.

External links[edit]