Ruth Van Rydock is worried about her sister, Carrie Louise, but she can’t identify why. She arranges for their old school friend, Jane Marple, to stay with Carrie Louise and her family at Stonygates, an institute for treating young criminals, run by her third husband, Lewis Serrocold.
One evening, the troubled Edgar Lawson locks Lewis into the study and threatens to shoot him. A shot is heard, but outside, followed by shots inside. When the door is broken down, Lewis is unharmed and it appears that no harm has been done, but then the body of Christian Gulbrandsen is found in another part of the house. A letter he was typing shows that Ruth was right to be concerned about her sister. Can Miss Marple keep her friend safe and find a killer?
Miss Marple is in good form again, coming out with this gem:
“Human nature, dear, is very much the same everywhere. It is more difficult to observe it closely in a city, that is all.”
But she isn’t at her best and it takes two additional, rather perfunctory, deaths before the murderer is identified.
Ah well, never mind, because next month we have what someone believes is the best Christie ever, so I’ll see you again “After the Funeral”.
Recurring character development
Was an English girl from a Cathedral Close who spent time in a pensionnat in Florence where she met Ruth and Carrie Louise. Had an idea that she would go to nurse lepers. This was nearly half a century ago.
Her nephew, Raymond, is in Mexico for six months. Without his financial kindness, she would not be able to live as she does, small fixed incomes having been devalued since World War II.
Has good long-distance sight.
Tells Inspector Curry she is a little deaf.
Inspector Curry refers to a Superintendent Blacker who seems to know Miss Marple but I don’t recall having come across him before.
Signs of the Times
Ruth says “Well there’s a fashion in philanthropy too. It used to be education in Gulbrandsen’s day. But that’s out of date now. The State has stepped in. Everyone expects education as a matter of right – and doesn’t think much of it when they get it!” In England state primary education had been free since 1891 but state secondary education only became free in 1944.
Edgar claims that various men are his father, including Lord Montgomery. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery is best remembered for his victory at El Alamein in 1942 which lead to him becoming Britain’s most senior field officer for the remainder of World War II. Winston Churchill, another of Edgar’s potential said of him “In defeat, unbeatable; in victory, unbearable”.
Above the gates of the Institute it says “Recover hope all ye who enter here” a reversal of “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” written above the entrance to Hell in Dante’s “Inferno”. Although this is how the phrase is commonly known (that’s how I’ve always seen it), the original translation was “All hope abandon ye who enter here”.
Alex Restarick shudders when mentioning Christian Gulbrandsen’s collection of “Thorwaldsen’s statuary”. Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was a Danish sculptor.
Well the moral of this story that a well-run business needs a rigourous system of internal controls to prevent and detect fraudulent accounting! If I’d been doing a reading challenge this year then this would have fitted perfectly into “You share an occupation with the murderer”. Almost all chartered accountants are law abiding citizens – we have to sign a declaration to this effect so it must be true – but then our monthly magazine always has details of why members have been fined or struck off.
We are told early on that Miss Marple believes that Lewis would always put causes before people and this is what motivates him to kill.
We have a classic “as if” misleading statement “He was breathing hard as though he had been running, but otherwise he was unmoved”.
Whilst in hindsight the identity of the killer is obvious – one of the two people who has a cast iron alibi – the way Lewis sets up the fake motive beforehand by taking the tonic away from Carrie Louise and then presenting the police with the letter that the dead man was supposed to have been typing is a stroke of genius.
It is nice that actually it is Carrie Louise who can see more clearly: she can’t believe that anyone wants to kill her and is perfectly correct in this.
What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently
Till Death Do Us Part (1944) by John Dickson Carr
The shooting, possibly accidental, of a fortune teller at the village fête is the boarding point onto this train of madness. I gave my wife a précis about a third of the way through but not long after I’d have been telling a different story, and would have had to carry on in that vein until the very end of the book. On the back of my Penguin copy JDC says “My ambition is still to write a really outstanding detective novel, which I do not honestly believe I have yet achieved” to which all I can say is “He must have been a perfectionist”.
The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) by Ellery Queen
If this book had been ten pages shorter I would have forgiven its obvious flaws – as it is I understand that for the book to be structured as it is, the police investigation had to be that poor, but come on, this is ridiculous. There is a nice Sign of the Times that leads to an alibi though.
One thought on “#52 – They Do It With Mirrors – WITH SPOILERS”
Most predictable Christie I’ve ever read. Guessed the twist immediately, on the very page where it happened.