They Do It With Mirrors is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and 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 November 17 in the same 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.
An old school friend, Ruth van Rydock, tells Miss Marple that she is very concerned about the health of her sister, Carrie Louise. Miss Marple agrees to help and visits Carrie at her large country house. Carrie and her latest husband have developed an interest in helping delinquent youths and part of the estate grounds includes a reform institution.
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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.
Miss Marple 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's daughter, Mildred Strete, has moved back to Stonygates after the death of her husband. Carrie Louise's granddaughter Gina, Gina's American husband Walter, and stepson Stephen Restarick also live with them. Stephen's older brother, Alexis Restarick, is a frequent visitors.
One of the first people Miss Marple encounters is young Edgar Lawson, a juvenile delinquent being shepherded 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, Carrie Louise's first husband Eric Gulbrandsen, set up. 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 sits in the Great Hall, but half of the lights suddenly go out. Walter leaves to put a new fuse in. Edgar Lawson enters, and accuses Lewis of deceiving him and spying on him. Lewis takes him into his office. The rest of the household listen as Edgar locks the door and shouts at Lewis, whom he claims is his father, and has treated him badly. Edgar threatens to shoot him, while Lewis tries to calm him.
A sound like a shot startles the family, but Carrie Louise says that it comes from outside the house. After that, two shots are heard from inside Lewis' office. The family intervenes by trying to open the door. Lewis opens the door, and scoffs at any concern for himself. The bullets missed him, and hit the wall. Edgar collapses in tears and apologises. Juliet "Jolly" 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. Alexis Restarick arrives at the house. 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. The police find the weapon that killed Christian hidden in the piano bench.
Alexis 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. Alexis envisions the house as a stage, which causes Miss Marple to begin thinking differently about the murder. The next evening, Alexis and a 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. Edgar spoke as both himself and Lewis, while Lewis killed Christian, and returned out of breath. Christian had discovered that Lewis was embezzling from the Gulbrandsen Trust, and had come to confront him. Lewis killed him to prevent this from being exposed. Edgar helped Lewis because he is Lewis' illegitimate son. The suspicion that Carrie Louise was being poisoned was a ruse created by Lewis.
When confronted by the police, Edgar 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.
Ruth and Carrie Louise's family tree
- Ruth Van Rydock - Old school friend of Miss Marple, an American socialite.
- Carrie Louise Serrocold - Younger sister of Ruth
- Eric Gulbrandsen - First husband of Carrie Louise (d)
- Christian Gulbrandsen - Son of Eric by an earlier marriage, stepson of Carrie Louise
- Mildred Strete - daughter of Eric and Carrie Louise. Married Canon Strete (d)
- Pippa - adopted daughter of Eric and Carrie Louise. Married Guido San Severiano
- Johnnie Restarick - Second husband of Carrie Louise (d)
- Lewis Serrocold: Third husband of Carrie Louise
- Miss Marple: An old woman with detective skills.
- Juliet Bellever: Called Jolly, she is Carrie Louise's secretary and companion since Louise's second marriage.
- 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.
- Dr Galbraith
- Mr Baumgarten
- Mr Gilfoy
- Arthur Jenkins
In the text, Miss Marple refers to the idiom "they do it with mirrors", alluding to 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."
Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
- 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), November 7, 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 April 26 (Volume 91, Number 2391) to May 31, 1952 (Volume 91, Number 2396) with illustrations by George Ditton.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Murder with Mirrors (1985)
- Main article: Murder with Mirrors
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, Neil Swettenham as Edgar Lawson and Helen Hayes as Miss Marple. This was the last of several film adaptations of Miss Marple stories starring Helen Hayes in the title role.
Miss Marple (BBC TV Series)
- Main article: They do it with Mirrors (Miss Marple episode)
A second adaptation was aired on 29 December 1991 as episode 11 of 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 Alexis 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.
Agatha Christie's Marple (ITV series)
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 made some changes to the characters and the final resolution of the plot.
Les Petits Meurtes d'Agatha
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.
The novel was adapted by BBC Radio.
- Czech: Smysluplná vražda (A Meaningful Murder)
- French: Jeux de Glaces (The Games with Mirrors)
- German: Fata Morgana (Fata Morgana)
- Italian: Miss Marple: giochi di prestigio (Miss Marple: sleight of hand)
- Spanish: El truco de los espejos (The trick of mirrors)
- Swedish: Trick med speglar (Trick with mirrors)
- USA: Murder with mirrors