Reading the Detectives discussion

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Group Challenges > They Do It With Mirrors - SPOILER Thread

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
Welcome to our October Challenge Read. This Miss Marple novel was first published in 1952.

Miss Marple senses danger when she visits a friend living in a Victorian mansion which doubles as a rehabilitation centre for delinquents. Her fears are confirmed when a youth fires a revolver at the administrator, Lewis Serrocold. Neither is injured. But a mysterious visitor, Mr Gilbrandsen, is less fortunate – shot dead simultaneously in another part of the building.

Pure coincidence? Miss Marple thinks not, and vows to discover the real reason for Mr Gilbrandsen’s visit.

Feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


message 2: by Jill (new)

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2062 comments I enjoyed reading this book but found that I did guess what was going on. As it is unusual for me to guess a Christie plot ,I am wondering if I had in fact read it before , but many years ago.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments I had read it before but didn't remember whodunit. I enjoyed this one though- again such a very different setting from the others so far, but still it is essentially it boils down to people and human nature as usual. There was one Poirot story I thought this compared with.


message 4: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Must admit I found this one a bit of a disappointment - for me not as good as the other Miss Marples we've read. I felt there is too much long-winded dialogue in the early chapters, and the setting struck me as unconvincing.

Also some of the plot elements seemed rather easy to guess - although I'm sure that is because of having read a lot of Christie recently.


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
I enjoyed this, but largely because I couldn't remember reading it before, which helped. So many of the Miss Marple novels are very familiar to me, but I couldn't really recall the plot of this one.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Judy wrote: "Must admit I found this one a bit of a disappointment - for me not as good as the other Miss Marples we've read. I felt there is too much long-winded dialogue in the early chapters, and the setting..."

I think it is probably the effect of too much Christie :) What I enjoyed in this though were the characters- there was as you say, plenty of conversation, but it gave us more of a chance to see and get to assess them as people. And unlike Bertrams' the murder here came well in time.


message 7: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments I'd never read this before but agree with others that the solution is surprisingly easy to spot - I guess Christie has used this trick of 'staging' before in other stories.

I liked the modern touches, though: that discussion about Dunkirk ('Foreigners never can understand why we're so proud of Dunkirk. It's the sort of thing they'd prefer not to mention themselves'). And the mini-debate about rehabilitation ('Daresay I'm wrong and old-fashioned. But there are plenty of good decent lads about who could do with a start in life').

And how cosmopolitan Miss Marple turns out to be, schooled in Florence with American friends!


message 8: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
I think the title is a bit of a giveaway about it being staged - occasionally titles of mysteries do give the game away, unfortunately!


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Judy wrote: "I think the title is a bit of a giveaway about it being staged - occasionally titles of mysteries do give the game away, unfortunately!"

I can think of another Christie that does that too in more than one way...


message 10: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Although I guessed about the shooting incident being staged, I didn't guess about motives for the poisoning - this plot aspect had me confused!

The poisoned chocolates reminded me of The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, where I think the poison might be injected into the chocolates in the same way.


message 11: by Annabel (new)

Annabel Frazer | 301 comments Patricia Wentworth books are absolutely full of poisoned chocolates as a murder method - you would think it was the obvious method for the amateur murderer. It always makes me smile when Poirot or Miss Silver or whoever airily says in their denouement explanation: "So easy to intercept that box and inject poison into the chocolates in the top layer." Polishing the top three steps on the staircase is another Patricia Wentworth favourite. One book has poisoned chocolates, the aforementioned polished stairs AND adders in the intended victim's bed.


message 12: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 365 comments We had (allegedly) poisoned chocolates in Bertrams, and they also appear in Christie's Peril at End House.


message 13: by Jackie (new)

Jackie | 253 comments "And how cosmopolitan Miss Marple turns out to be, schooled in Florence with American friends"

yes, I really liked learning more about her youth.


message 14: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Annabel wrote: "Patricia Wentworth books are absolutely full of poisoned chocolates as a murder method - you would think it was the obvious method for the amateur murderer. It always makes me smile when Poirot or ..."

Annabel, you have now really got me wondering whether this method was ever used in real life - I will have to investigate!


message 15: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
I've found details of a famous Victorian poisoner, Christiana Edmunds, who indeed poisoned boxes of chocolates by injecting them - I wonder if she provided inspiration for Christie, Wentworth and Berkeley?

http://www.lifedeathprizes.com/real-l...


message 16: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
It's a risky business, poisoning chocolates. Yes, certain ones may be 'favourites,' but anybody could take one. Poison was certainly a popular method in the early years of the century, but I wonder how many cases there are now?


message 17: by Annabel (new)

Annabel Frazer | 301 comments You wouldn't think hard-centred chocolates would be easy to poison. You would be going for the soft centres. I shall be thinking about this at Christmas when I get the Quality Street out...


message 18: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments Judy wrote: "Although I guessed about the shooting incident being staged, I didn't guess about motives for the poisoning - this plot aspect had me confused!"

My understanding is that it was another piece of 'staging': no-one was really trying to kill Carrie-Louise but her husband pretends they are in order to explain Christian's unexpected arrival and to distract from his embezzling of the funds. Note how quick he is to stop C-L drinking her 'tonic', practically snatching it out of her hands - my suspicions were alerted immediately!


message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "Note how quick he is to stop C-L drinking her 'tonic', practically snatching it out of her hands - my suspicions were alerted immediately! ..."

That didn't strike me at the time... I wondered how he knew someone was trying to poison her, but it didn't strike me that he was the one doing this - even though I realised he was the killer early on!


message 20: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments I thought it was clever the way Christie used the old chestnut of 'it's always the husband' but gave it a twist by making it clear that in this case he loved her devotedly to knock us off the scent. She's so wonderfully sneaky!


message 21: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I thought it was clever the way Christie used the old chestnut of 'it's always the husband' but gave it a twist by making it clear that in this case he loved her devotedly to knock us off the scent..."

But he did love her and wasn't really making off with her at all- that was the biggest twist- by changing the focus to somewhere where the truth was in his favour, he was successful in hiding what he was really doing wrong.


message 22: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
Now, if Annabel invites us all over for Christmas drinks - and, especially if she lives in a country house - we must all be very, very careful ;)


message 23: by Annabel (new)

Annabel Frazer | 301 comments Yes, it will be absolutely hazardous what with the polished stairs and the chocolates and probably poisoned cocktails as well as that's another Christie favourite. Not to mention the cyanide in the garden shed 'for the wasps'...


message 24: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
If anyone goes to lock themselves in the study, I will also anticipate a gunshot, Annabel, so you cover all bases ;)


message 25: by Tara (new)

Tara  | 809 comments I thought the ending to this one was particularly dramatic, with the chase and drowning. Kind of similar to the car crash we saw at the end of Bertram's, plus the element of self sacrifice in both. I do think its an important perspective to show that even if people commit criminal acts, it doesn't mean they are wholly bad people.


message 26: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
I agree the ending was exciting, Tara, even if I was a bit disappointed by this book overall. As you say, it showed different aspects of the killer’s character.


message 27: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Tara wrote: "I thought the ending to this one was particularly dramatic, with the chase and drowning. Kind of similar to the car crash we saw at the end of Bertram's, plus the element of self sacrifice in both...."

True-different to some of her other "murderers" who are "evil" as people.

Interesting how both books explored the parent - child relationship as well - mother-daughter there and father-son here.


message 28: by Sandy (new)

Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
Given the book's title and lack of motive for any of the other suspects I really should have been suspicious of Lewis, but I wasn't. And it doesn't ring true to me, especially the two additional murders. And I really don't buy the network of embezzling accountants, perhaps because I just read The Big Four with its conspiracy for world domination.

However I enjoyed the book: Would Gina grow up? Would Wally stand up for the life he wanted? Could Mildred be content? Would Carrie-Louise emerge unscathed? Could Edgar be happy?

And another intelligent inspector who knows how to treat his suspects (deft handling of Mildred) and recognizes Miss Marple's ability.


message 29: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Sandy wrote: "However I enjoyed the book: Would Gina grow up? Would Wally stand up for the life he wanted? Could Mildred be content? Would Carrie-Louise emerge unscathed? Could Edgar be happy?..."
The characters were what I most enjoyed in this book too.

Re the Big Four- I find it rather silly- probably my least favourite of hers.


message 30: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
I had to check I was in the spoiler thread, but I was so glad that Carrie turned to her daughter at the end. I thought of Agatha Christie then and how she never really had the relationship with her daughter that she hoped for.


message 31: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Yes, it was nice to see that there was a close relationship there under the surface which they never really spoke about.


message 32: by Paperbackreader (new)

Paperbackreader | 64 comments When I first read, They Do It with Mirrors, the location of the story seemed unusual to me and I liked it. A reform home for juvenile criminals. That is somewhere I had not pictured Miss Marple and yet, it was somehow so apt for her! I also liked the idea of illusion and misdirection Christie uses here. Even if some plot points are similar across her stories, I love Christie. I can retreat into the comfort of familiarity and forget my troubles.


message 33: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments I'm currently reading Force of Nature and the problem of keeping five women defined in my head is reminding me, in comparison, of how deft Christie is in her characterisation, even when we have a complicated family like here. This description, for example, of Mildred is genius:

'She expressed Christian Endurance, and possibly Christian Fortitude. But not, Curry thought, Christian Charity.'


So compact, so clear, Mildred established in our heads - and then given more depth at the end.


message 34: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
Yes, that's Mildred described perfectly, Roman Clodia! In the Joan Hickson adaptation I watched this week, Mildred is a bit too sweet and insipid - I liked the adaptation a lot in general, but longed for one or two nasty comments from her.


message 35: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
Christie is brilliant at summing up characters. She implies things and expects her readers to understand. It is funny, as she is often described as being an 'easy,' read, but she dumbs down her writing far less than modern authors, who have a tendency to spell everything out.


message 36: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments Paperbackreader wrote: "When I first read, They Do It with Mirrors, the location of the story seemed unusual to me and I liked it. A reform home for juvenile criminals."

It's so clever how Christie nods to the typical country house of the genre but brings it up to date by having it converted in post-war style: instead of assorted guests, we have 'inmates' and social workers/doctors, instead of the old colonel we have young ex-Marine Wally.

Very interesting to compare with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, for example, where poisoning and deception and marriage are also central but in different ways.


message 37: by Annabel (new)

Annabel Frazer | 301 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I'm currently reading Force of Nature and the problem of keeping five women defined in my head is reminding me, in comparison, of how deft Christie is in her characterisation, even ..."

I absolutely agree! Agatha Christie is so often dismissed as an unskilled writer but she is brilliant with characterisation. She can put someone into my head in five words. So many of the other detective stories I've read recently have failed to do that and if you can't tell the characters apart, you can't care about them or care what happens to them. So many books have foundered on that point for me lately.

My latest theory is that Christie's childhood is the explanation - hours spent alone playing in the family garden as her older siblings were at boarding-school, but a secure solitude, because she was greatly loved by her parents and had devoted servants taking care of her too, giving her the freedom to invent imaginary friends and characters from a confident, happy position.


message 38: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 366 comments Annabel wrote: "My latest theory is that Christie's childhood is the explanation."
Exciting! Tell us more :-)

I really like your observations about the characterization by Christie. I also really admire that and in this book, I especially liked the way she made her young American couple speak so differently: quick, to the point, short words, fast-paced.
People may say her books are "easy" to read but I think they miss so much! There's is so much comedy, and so many references, and just, I think, sheer fun in her writing.


message 39: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Jessica wrote: "Annabel wrote: "My latest theory is that Christie's childhood is the explanation."
Exciting! Tell us more :-)

I really like your observations about the characterization by Christie. I also really..."


I enjoy her characterisation as well- in some books it stands out more than others- The Hollow for instance.


message 40: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10013 comments Mod
Annabel, it really annoys me when Christie's writing is dismissed. She is very deft at summing up characters and can put you into a scene immediately. I think she is just so clever that, often, her skill is overlooked as she makes things look so easy.


message 41: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8938 comments Mod
I agree she makes all the characters distinct in this except for one or two of the young boys - but I found Edgar and Dr Maverick both rather unconvincing.


message 42: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Judy wrote: "I agree she makes all the characters distinct in this except for one or two of the young boys - but I found Edgar and Dr Maverick both rather unconvincing."

Edgar - do you mean his true identify?


message 43: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments Lady Clementina wrote: "I enjoy her characterisation as well- in some books it stands out more than others- The Hollow for instance."

Oh yes, The Hollow is wonderful! I also remember adoring Sad Cypress for its portrait of Elinor, and its sustained atmosphere of loss.


message 44: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments Lady Clementina wrote: "Judy wrote: "I agree she makes all the characters distinct in this except for one or two of the young boys - but I found Edgar and Dr Maverick both rather unconvincing."

Edgar - do you mean his true identity?"


Once I finished the book I was unconvinced by the secret son twist - it seemed a step too far and actually rather cruel.


message 45: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Lady Clementina wrote: "I enjoy her characterisation as well- in some books it stands out more than others- The Hollow for instance."

Oh yes, The Hollow is wonderful! I also remember adoring [book..."

Me too- incidentally have you read Heyer's Penhallow- it's something of the same in terms of characterisation.


message 46: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia | 812 comments Ooh, thanks! I've only discovered Heyer's romances fairly recently and haven't tried any of her detective fiction yet so will add this to the list. My library has a lot of them as audiobooks so may be a good commute 'read'.


message 47: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Ooh, thanks! I've only discovered Heyer's romances fairly recently and haven't tried any of her detective fiction yet so will add this to the list. My library has a lot of them as audiobooks so may..."

This is the only one I've read so far but I have acquired some more which are waiting on my TBR. Penhallow though isn't technically a "mystery" but it is a murder story and the character study is excellent.


message 48: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 365 comments My problem is that, though I've re-read the book recently, the changes from the three TV versions are still whirling in my head and now I'm not sure what came from where!


message 49: by Corrie (new)

Corrie | 15 comments I find that so true, Mark. I think I have read all of Christie's Marple books many times, but I have seen so many different movies, TV adaptations, and heard some audio recordings that seem to be a little different, that I find it hard to remember the actual book story.
I think this one especially varies a lot. I said earlier in a post, which I think I posted before time in the wrong place, that this story just didn't seem plausible, because of the setting and there were so many characters. I don't know if I prefer Poirot stories, sometimes I think I do, but at least David Suchet keeps the stories in my mind, because he sticks to the character.


message 50: by Paperbackreader (new)

Paperbackreader | 64 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Oh yes, The Hollow is wonderful! I also remember adoring Sad Cypress for its portrait of Elinor, and its sustained atmosphere of loss."

I prefer The Hollow as a play rather than as a Poirot novel. But then, I do have a weakness for plays.


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