Sure, they do it with mirrors. Apparently in 1952, they could even do it by telephone. By which I refer to phoning it in, because this isn’t Christie at her best. It isn’t even Marple at her best. Still, They Do It with Mirrors is a diverting read, a quick Christie satisfier.
We begin with Miss Marple enjoying a few moments with a dear friend from boarding school days. Ruth now lives in America, but her sister lives in England, and after visiting her, Ruth has a suspicion something isn’t right–something besides the 200 criminals living on the property. Ruth’s sister Carrie Louise and her current husband are running a school for juvenile delinquents, hoping to reform the youth through applied psychology. Also in residence are Carrie Louise’s attendant, her two step-sons, her grand-daughter and her American husband, and Carrie’s widowed daughter. Ruth can’t tell Jane any concrete reason why she feels anxious about her sister, but would like Miss Marple to put her gentle investigatory skills to work.
I love the few moments we have Miss Marple’s backstory as she shares reminiscences with Ruth and Carrie Louise. Despite her fondness for the universals of human nature, Miss Marple so rarely draws stories from herself–she finds most parallels in neighbors and acquaintances. Now that I think about it, I suspect that is one of the reasons I was always so fond of Miss Marple: she’s the antithesis of the attention-seeking narcissist, an all-too-familiar figure (ahem, Poirot). Moreover, Miss Marple is self-aware and is at peace with it: “Everyone’s life has a tempo. Ruth’s was presto whereas Miss Marple’s was content to be adagio.”
The setting is a country estate in shabby condition, and revolves more around gossiping conversation than fact-finding. I didn’t note Miss Marple displaying her usual acumen, and thought she appeared to be led astray rather easily. Christie seemed to be telegraphing as well, but that is a tricky call for me–I’ve read most of her works decades ago so I can never tell what I’m remembering from reading, and what I might be deciphering.
Interestingly, I don’t remember noticing Christie’s subtle humor when I was younger, but I’m enjoying her sly asides now. Here it generally plays out in discussions with the police:
“‘I shouldn’t think anybody else,’ said Miss Marple…’I just happened to be looking out of my window–at some birds.’
‘Birds.’ Miss Marple added after a moment or two: ‘I thought, perhaps, they might be siskins.’
Inspector Curry was uninterested in siskins.”
Characterization was largely straightforward, following general character stereotypes with one or two developed above the rest. Again, the police provide some amusement. Watch Dame Christie get a jab or two in:
“She looked, Inspector Curry reflected, exactly as the relict of a Canon of the Established Church should look–which was almost odd, because so few people ever did look like what they really were.
Even the tight line of her lips had an ascetic Ecclesiatical flavour. She expressed Christian Endurance, and possibly Christian Fortitude. But not, Curry thought, Christian Charity.”
The rather slow build of the beginning has a nicely murderous payoff, then followed by even more disaster. The culmination, however, seemed hasty and morally simplified and borrowed (or heralded?) another Christie ending. Overall, it was fun, if not particularly suspenseful or logical. Entertaining and quick, perfect for a break between projects.