Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review: They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

They Do It With Mirrors (A Miss Marple Mystery)
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Signet/Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-451-19990-4

About the book:

Responding to her friend Carrie's urgent invitation, Miss Jane Marple has arrived at her sprawling estate. To Miss Marple's surprise, Carrie's remote "Gothic monstrosity" has been turned into a home for delinquent boys. What's more, Carrie's own children and grandchildren have taken up residence - and few of them are thrilled at how mother is squandering the family fortune. Then a brutal murder proves that philanthropy is the least of Carrie's problems - and Miss Marple finds that where there's smoke, there's mirrors.


Sisters Carrie and Ruth are two of Miss Marple's oldest friends - and it's at the behest of Ruth that Jane accepts an invitation to visit Carrie, because of Ruth's worries that something is not quite right in that household. When she arrives, she discovers any number of potential reasons for Ruth's unease - the delinquents Carrie and and her husband Lewis are attempting to rehabilitate, the flirtatious granddaughter and her sullen husband, and the controlling housekeeper who may or may not have Carrie's best interest at heart - just to name a few of the potential suspects. When Carrie's stepson is murdered with little apparent reason, it becomes frighteningly apparent that the universally loved Carrie's life might be threatened. The entire situation is a shell game, and Miss Marple and the local Inspector must work to unravel the truth from the lies before Carrie becomes a victim of her own benevolent, trusting nature.

They Do It With Mirrors has many of the elements of a classic Christie mystery. The setting is tightly contained to a well-off family home - a family where everything *should* be perfect, but everyone has their secrets. Everything's very genteel, but that veneer of proper English respectability masks some pretty passionate familial discord. In the best Dame Agatha Christie fashion, this cast of characters gives her plenty of opportunity to pack the story with red herrings and misdirection. As far as the actual mystery goes - this story falls a bit short when compared to some of Christie's other gems. The culprit becomes apparent rather early on, which is kind of surprising, but it allows Christie to take a look at their motivations and how exactly this "conjuring trick" of a murder was seemingly so flawlessly executed. What's more interesting for me than the actual case is the analysis of Carrie's character, and how this woman who never seemed to have a good grasp of reality sees situations and people much clearer than others. Enjoyable (aren't all Christies?), but not a runaway favorite.

Book vs. Film:

Compared to the recently adapted A Pocket Full of Rye (film review, book review), the novel They Do It With Mirrors features the character of Miss Marple to a much greater degree. I just think it's really interesting how some Marple books barely feature the iconic sleuth - but that's neither here nor there. Overall I'd rate the most recent film version of They Do It With Mirrors as a pretty faithful adaptation of Christie's story. The cast of characters is slightly compressed or their roles are rearranged a bit, but it makes sense within the context of watching the story as a film. For example, instead of having Carrie's granddaughter (Gina) at odds with her aunt Mildred, in the film Gina is elevated to the role of daughter - it makes the sisterly conflict a bit more compelling IMO. Ruth is given a bigger role in the movie, but Joan Collins's portrayal is pitch-perfect when compared to the text. The same applies to Elliot Cowan's take on the role of Wally, Gina's husband - if anything he makes the injured American a bit more sympathetic than he appears in the novel. And Alex Jennings gives an excellent performance as Inspector Curry - absolutely nails it, especially when you look at his scenes with Miss Marple. While some changes were made to the story, I really feel like the filmmakers remained true to the essence of the story, which made for a well done and enjoyable flick.

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