Mondays with Marple: They Do It With Mirrors…

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Welcome to the final Mondays with Marple post for 2014.  I’ve enjoyed Marpling along with you all this year and it’s been fun to explore the world of Jane Marple to such an extent.  This final offering for the year was quite a satisfying puzzle, which is a relief since the last few Marples I picked were less than stellar.  Today we will explore Christie’s misdirection and sleight of hand in They Do It With Mirrors.

they do it with mirrors

Plot Summary:

Miss Marple is coerced into visiting an old school friend at her home, Stonygates – a Victorian mansion that has been repurposed to include a boarding school for delinquent boys – after a mutual friend’s insistence that something isn’t right with Carrie Louise Serrocold.  On her arrival, Miss Marple can find nothing obviously amiss, but traces the threads of a few patterns that give her cause for disquiet.  When Carrie Louise’s stepson (from her first marriage) – Christian Gulbrandsen – arrives unexpectedly, Miss Marple manages to overhear a conversation that leads her to believe that something important is being kept from her dear friend.  An alarming incident involving Carrie Louise’s current husband – Lewis Serrocold – and one of the young delinquents draws all eyes in the mansion, and shortly after this Christian Gulbrandsen is found murdered.  The murder sends the occupants of the house into a flurry of suspicion.  Any one of them could have been responsible for the shooting of Gulbrandsen, and as they are all intimately connected, nobody knows who to trust.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a convoluted story where characters are concerned – there’s grande olde dame, the quiet, sweet-hearted, trusting Carrie Louise, her third (and current) husband, Lewis, her daughter Mildred, her granddaughter (from her adopted eldest deceased child) Gina; Gina’s American husband Wally; the two grown-up sons of Carrie Louise’s second husband, Steven and Alex; Carrie Louise’s elderly stepson (from her first marriage) Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louise’s brisk and competent companion, Jolly; Edgar Lawson, a troubled young man from the boarding school, and a few assorted psychiatrists and juveniles.

Level of Carnage:

Low for most of the book.  There are a few secondary murders that take place in a rather violent fashion, and a few extra deaths to round out the reveal.

Level of Wiley-Tricksiness:

High.  Obviously the title hints that there will be a bit of misdirection going on here, but as even Miss Marple gets tricked by this initially I don’t feel too bad about falling for certain red herrings.

Overall Rating:

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Four knitting needles for the tangled family relationships involved

It was a relief, after a few hit-and-miss Marples, to pick up a standard, old-fashioned pyschological puzzle.  This is Christie at her typical high quality.  The action happens in one place, there’s plenty of opportunity for readers to make a stab (pun intended) at the murderer/s and the eventual reveal is pretty satisfying.  It’s not a “blow you away with it’s brilliance” novel, but it’s a lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  A lot less painful too.  Not to mention less messy.

Next year I will be moving on to a broader review program that encompasses the works of more writers of murder mystery.  Christie’s work will, of course, be included in this program, but I will also branch out to include others such as Dorothy L. Sayers and …. others, who I haven’t discovered yet.  Feel free to suggest some good murdery tales and you may find them featured in my 2015 review series: Monday is for Murder!

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays with Marple: The Moving Finger…

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Greetings Marplophiles! The next instalment of my quest to immerse myself in the life work of Jane Marple continues with The Moving Finger….

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Plot Summary:

Jerry Burton is under strict relaxation orders as he recovers from an accident and he and his sister Joanna decide to rent a house in the entirely forgettable village of Lymstock to facilitate this end.  Shortly after their arrival Joanna receives a poison pen letter containing some entirely unsavoury (and completely unfounded) accusations.  While the siblings laugh the letter off as the work of a bored or religiously zealous resident, other poison pen letters begin making their way around the village causing great upset to their recipients.  When one resident is found dead after receiving a letter, with a handwritten note stating, “I can’t go on” beside her corpse, police begin to take the poison pen epidemic more seriously.  As suspicions are raised and neighbour turns against neighbour, Jerry becomes more convinced that the poison pen letter writer must be apprehended before another life is taken.  Miss Marple makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance towards the end of the book when the investigation stalls and then returns at the climax to apprehend the murderer and explain her methods.

The Usual Suspects:

The handsome gentleman and his equally handsome sister, interlopers in a quiet village, the owner of the house the siblings rent (a delightful elderly spinster fallen on hard times), the overprotective maidservant, the honest, noble village doctor and his energetic, loud-mouthed sister, the well-respected family with a past (including the black sheep adult daughter) and the slightly odd bachelor with a distinctly feminine mind. Plus assorted servants, maids and hangers on.

Level of Carnage:

Low.

Level of Wiley-Tricksiness:

Fair to middling.  I wasn’t able to guess the killer or the poison pen writer, falling as I did for the red herrings that Christie left lying about to trick to slow of wit.  I didn’t feel that the eventual reveal was overly ingenious or satisfying though.

Overall Rating:

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Two knitting needles.

I’m not entirely sure why Christie made this a Marple novel because she’s in it for such an insignificant amount of time and has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot.  The book would have been just as good without her and I actually felt a bit cheated that I had to wade through a pretty standard mystery for such a small dose of Marple.  I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one if you’re new to Marple, or indeed finishing with it….it was all a bit mediocre and forgettable unfortunately.

Ah well. Better luck next time I suppose.

Until then,

Bruce

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Mondays with Marple: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side…

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Afternoon mystery lovers!  It’s time for another Monday with Marple, a time to sit back, relax and find out what’s going on in the world of Jane Marple – knitter, spinster, murder-solver.  Today’s pick is The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.  I selected this one to be second in the MwM review series for the simple reason that it happened to be on the shelf at a second-hand bookstore I happened to wander into.   And I quite liked the title.  So join me as I delve into the world of …

mirror coverPlot Summary:

Marina Gregg, famous actress and possessor of a nervous temperament, buys the big house at St Mary Mead hoping that it will be her “forever” home.  At a fete for the St John Ambulance hosted at the house, Heather Badcock – local chatterbox and ardent fan of Marina Gregg – dies suddenly after drinking a cocktail offered at an exclusive soiree in the house.  After initial inquiries from the police, it appears unlikely that anyone would intentionally wish to do away with Mrs Badcock and the hottest tip is that the poisoned cocktail was actually meant for Marina.  Miss Marple, although largely housebound and under the ever-watchful eye of housekeeper Mrs Knight, nevertheless has some suspicions of her own.  But will she be able to unravel the mystery before others meet an untimely end??  Well, no she won’t.  But that’s part of the fun really, isn’t it?

The Usual Suspects:

The charming and unstable actress, her ugly but nice-personality-ed fourth husband, the gossipy fan, the henpecked husband of the gossipy fan, the dark, brooding American and famous actress number two, the foreign butler, the previous owner of the big house, the servants, the producer, the fussy and efficient social secretary….there’s thousands and thousands….Well, not quite that many.  But there’s no elderly, blustering military man retired from service in India, which I thought was a bit of a shame.

Level of Carnage:

There are multiple murders. Satisfying.

Level of Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

This was a landmark book for me.  I actually picked the important elements of the ending very early on in the book.  This is the first time that has ever happened, which indicates to me that either I have suddenly become significantly more intelligent, or that Agatha didn’t really try her hardest in this one.  Nevertheless, the plot twist and reveal is pretty tricky. *smug expression*

Overall Rating:

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Three out of five knitting needles. It was a fun read, but I really felt the lack of a Colonel. Or a Major.  Or a Captain.

Until next time,

Bruce