They Do It with Mirrors
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||187 first edition, hardback|
|Preceded by||Mrs McGinty's Dead|
|Followed by||A Daughter's a Daughter|
They Do It with Mirrors is a detective fiction novel by Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1952 under the title of Murder with Mirrors and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on 17 November that year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6). The book features her detective Miss Marple.
One review at the time of publication praised the essence of the plot but felt the latter half of the novel moved too slowly. A later review considered that this novel showed "Definite signs of decline." and felt the author was not entirely comfortable with the setting she described in the novel.
While visiting her American school friend Ruth Van Rydock in London, Miss Marple learns that Ruth is seriously concerned for her sister Carrie Louise. She asks Miss Marple to visit Carrie Louise at Stonygates, her home in England. Miss Marple agrees to the visit. She is impressed by the size of the Victorian mansion, which now has a separate building for delinquent boys, the cause which engages Carrie Louise and her third husband, Lewis Serrocold. Carrie Louise has her family living with her, as her granddaughter Gina has brought her American husband Walter to England to meet her family. Daughter Mildred Strete moved back home after she was widowed. Stepsons Steven and Alexis Restarick, now grown, are frequent visitors, and present during Miss Marple's visit. One of the first people Miss Marple encounters is young Edgar Lawson, a juvenile delinquent being shepherd by Serrocold, who seems to have mental issues.
Miss Marple learns of Carrie Louie's health problems from old age, but is pleased to see that she is still the sweet, idealistic, and loving person she has known. An unexpected visitor arrives at Stonygates--Christian Gulbrandsen--a trustee of the charitable foundation that his father set up with the wealth he generated in his life. Lewis walks from the train station and meets Christian on the terrace. Miss Marple watches them through her bird-watcher's binoculars and tries to learn the reason for Christian's unexpected visit. She hears a few phrases, concerning the importance of keeping a problem from Carrie Louise, and that they should call for outside help. Both men enter for dinner, and afterwards, Christian retires to his room to write letters.
The rest of the household is held entranced by a scene that plays out in the office of Lewis Serrocold. Lawson enters it with a gun, locks the door, and speaks loudly of Lewis, whom he now claims is his father and has treated him badly. Lawson threatens to shoot him, while Lewis tries to calm him. Tension is added to the scene by darkness; Walter knows how to fix the overloaded fuse, so he fixes it, and rejoins the group. The family hear shots and intervene by trying to open the door. Another shot is heard by some, but not all. When the door is open, Lewis scoffs at any concern for himself, and they see that the shots hit the wall. Lawson collapses in tears and apologies. "Jolly" Juliet Believer, housekeeper and companion to Carrie Louise, returns to the room saying she has called the police, because she has found Christian, dead in his room from a gunshot.
Lewis proceeds to Christian's room, followed by Carrie Louise and Miss Marple. Alex Restarick arrives at the house. His brother Steven was already there, playing the piano after dinner. Then the police arrive. Inspector Curry quickly establishes that none of the people from the facility for the boys are involved, nor any of the servants who live outside Stonygates. He discovers that there was a sheet of paper in the typewriter when Jolly entered the room. Lewis removed it, afraid his wife would read it and discover that the reason for Christian's visit was his fear that someone had been poisoning Carrie Louise. Lewis suggests that the poison is in her medicine, a liquid which is shown to contain arsenic. Miss Marple comments that most of the family would be pleased if Walter were found to be the killer, but Christian was not killed by Walter's gun, which was in Lawson's hand during the interval. Police find the weapon that killed Christian on the piano bench. Alex explains that his drive to the house was slowed by the fog, and that what he saw and heard in the fog, such as someone running and one of the shots, gave him an idea for a stage set. Alex envisions the house as a stage, which causes Miss Marple to begin thinking differently about the murder. The next evening, Alex and the boy Ernie Gregg are killed by stage weights.
Miss Marple explains to the police how one person could run from Lewis's study to Christian's room along the terrace in under two minutes--Lewis Serrocold. Lawson spoke as both himself and Lewis, while Lewis killed Christian and returned out of breath. Lewis was embezzling from the Gulbrandsen Trust, explaining Christian's visit. Lawson is the illegitimate son of Lewis. The suspicion of Carrie Louie's poisoning was a ruse created by Lewis.
When confronted by the police, Lawson flees the house, jumping into an old boat to cross a lake on the property. The boat begins to sink, so Lewis Serrocold jumps into the lake to rescue his son. Both are caught in the reeds lining the lake, and drown before the police can reach them. Carrie Louise walks indoors with her daughter Mildred, and Gina and Walter head back to America.
- Miss Marple: An old woman with detective skills.
- Ruth Van Rydock: Old school friend of Miss Marple, an American socialite.
- Carrie Louise Serrocold: Younger sister of Ruth, also a school friend of Miss Marple.
- Lewis Serrocold: Third husband of Carrie Louise, once an accountant and now an enthusiast for the charitable treatment of juvenile delinquents.
- Gina Hudd: Granddaughter of Carrie Louise from her first marriage. She was born in Italy, moved to England as an infant when her mother died in childbirth. She spent World War II in the US with her aunt Ruth, sent there for safety. Her mother was Pippa, the adopted daughter of Carrie Louise and her first husband, Eric Gulbrandsen.
- Walter Hudd: American husband of Gina.
- Mildred Strete: Sister of Pippa, and the only child born to Carrie Louise and her first husband, Mr Gulbrandsen. She was widowed a few years before the story begins.
- Juliet Bellever: Called Jolly, she is Carrie Louise's secretary and companion since Louise's second marriage.
- Steven Restarick: Son of Carrie Louise's second husband, who has since childhood considered Carrie Louise as a mother and her home as his home, as his father died not long after his father divorced Carrie Louise. He loves Gina, and works in the theatre, helping often with the delinquents to stage plays there.
- Alexis Restarick: Older brother of Steven, who views Carrie Louise affectionately as his brother does. He loves Gina and also works in the theatre. He is killed at the same time as Ernie, in the theatre.
- Christian Gulbrandsen: Son of Carrie Louise's first husband, and half brother to Mildred. He is on the board of the Gulbrandsen family trust, periodically visiting at the house for meetings of the board. He is the first murder victim.
- Edgar Lawson: One of the delinquents, arrived about a month before the story begins (after the last meeting of the board for the Gulbrandsen trust), who is often in the house and on the grounds, and who works closely with Lewis Serrocold.
- Dr Maverick: Chief psychiatrist for the juvenile delinquents program; he views all people as "mental cases".
- Ernie Gregg: One of the delinquents who is active in the theatre work, and is killed for boasting to Gina about what he says he saw the night of the murder. He likely made it up.
- Inspector Curry: He leads the police investigation of the first murder, and learns from his superiors of Miss Marple's reputation in solving crimes.
- Detective Sergeant Lake: Assists Curry in the investigation at Stonygates.
In the text, Miss Marple says, "they do it with mirrors", is the slang term for the illusions of magicians and of a stage set. It is thinking of that which leads her to looking a new way at the evening of the first murder.
Literary significance and reception
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."
Robert Barnard said of this novel that its setting was: "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." He summed it up as showing "Definite signs of decline."
- 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.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Several adaptations were made of the book for TV and Film:
The novel's first adaptation was the 1985 television film Murder with Mirrors with Sir John Mills as Lewis Serrocold, Bette Davis as Carrie Louise, Tim Roth as Edgar Lawson and Helen Hayes as Miss Marple.
A second adaptation was aired on 29 December 1991 in 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. 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 aired on 1 January 2010 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. 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 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 does not use a rotted boat to escape, but swims 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 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 introduced - 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. This adaptation had two murders, not three.
There is a French television production aired in 2013, Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, season two, first episode, "Jeux de glaces", which can mean "Game of Mirrors".
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.
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B A (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 87. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Golden Years: 1945 - 1952". Retrieved 22 August 2018.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie; Foord, Peter; Williams, Richard (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1871122138.
- Richardson, Maurice (30 November 1952). "Review". The Observer. p. 9.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 207. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.