This month’s theme for the Read Christie 2021 challenge is ‘a story set after WWII’. There were plenty of options for this one – any book published after 1945 would count – and I eventually decided on They Do It with Mirrors, a 1952 Miss Marple novel.
The story begins with Miss Marple meeting an old friend, Ruth, who tells her that she’s worried about her sister, Carrie Louise, although she doesn’t give any specific reasons for her concern. Carrie Louise, like Ruth, has had several husbands and her latest, Lewis Serrocold, has established a rehabilitation centre for juvenile criminals at their home, Stonygates. Miss Marple agrees to go and visit Stonygates to see if she can find out what’s going on and, on her arrival, she finds a large number of people assembled at the house, including Carrie Louise’s daughter, granddaughter and stepson, as well as several other family members and servants.
As Miss Marple gets to know the various members of the household, she also begins to feel that something is not quite right – and she is proved to be correct when Christian Gulbrandsen, the son of Carrie Louise’s first husband, is found shot dead in his room. At the same time, Lewis Serrocold is shot at in his study by one of the ‘juvenile delinquents’, a young man who claims to be Winston Churchill’s son. Lewis is unharmed, but as one of the other characters remarks, “you don’t expect murder and attempted murder in the same house on the same night!” The police, led by Inspector Curry, soon arrive on the scene and begin their investigations, but it’s Miss Marple, of course, who eventually solves the mystery.
I don’t think this is one of Christie’s best, but I did still enjoy it – and unlike my last Christie novel, Death on the Nile, where I guessed the solution almost immediately, I didn’t manage to solve this one before the culprit was revealed. The title of the book refers to the fact that things and people are not always what they seem and sometimes, like a magician, ‘they do it with mirrors’ to cause confusion and misdirection. Well, I certainly allowed myself to be misdirected, but I do think it would have been possible to work it out if I’d been paying more attention.
This book has an interesting setting which gives Christie a chance to explore Lewis Serrocold’s work with the young offenders and the way in which these young men were viewed by 1950s society. This doesn’t really play a big part in the story and it could have worked just as well as a conventional country house mystery without this element, but it does provide some extra interest.
December’s theme for Read Christie 2021 is ‘a story set during bad weather’. The suggested title is The Sittaford Mystery, which is one I haven’t read yet.