Friday, May 21, 2010

Dead Man's Mirror

For her readers about to set about on their summer holidays, might Miss Lemon recommend Dead Man's Mirror, a chilling collection of tales by the dame of whodunit, Agatha Christie, to tuck into their steamer trunks? She promises it will make passage on the Queen Mary -- or any other mode of transport -- seem all the more swift.

The book sets off in the way it means to continue with its title story, "Dead Man's Mirror," a novella, really, that is also one of Mrs. Christie's takes on the old mystery chestnut: the locked-room murder. Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore, a man by all accounts of remarkable ego and quite possibly mad, is found in his study shot through the head. A revolver lies beneath his dangling fingers; a note scrawled in haste on the blotter reads a desperate 'SORRY.' Both the window and door to the room are locked and the key is conveniently found in Sir Gervase's pocket.

Seems like a neat case for suicide until Hercule Poirot picks a tiny shard of shattered glass from the base of statue. The case, he observes, "is like the mirror smashed on the wall. The dead man's mirror. Every new fact we come across shows us some different angle of the dead man.... We shall soon have a complete picture."

"Murder in the Mews," the second in the lineup, is also a locked-room murder; but one, Miss Lemon thinks, more elegantly plotted. M. Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp stroll along the streets of London on the evening of 5 November, when Japp remarks that all the fireworks would be just the thing to disguise a murder. And indeed, the two are led to just such a ploy when they are called to investigate the death of Mrs. Barbara Allen. Ostensibly another suicide, this time the angle of the bullet wound and the absence of prints on the weapon make it impossible for any but the most naive to think that was so.

Mrs. Allen's flat mate, Miss Prenderleith takes her death a bit too cooly for Japp; but there are others just as 'hairy at the heel.' Miss Lemon gives nothing away when she says that the clue to this mystery is more smoke than mirrors. 

The final story -- and Miss Lemon's favourite -- is titled "Triangle at Rhodes." It begins with a peek at HP in top form:
Hercule Poirot sat on the white sand and looked out across the sparkling blue water. He was carefully dressed in a dandified fashion in white flannels and a large panama hat protected his head. He belonged to the old-fashioned generation which believed in covering itself carefully from the sun. Miss Pamela Lyall, who sat beside him and talked ceaselessly, represented the modern school of thought in that she was wearing the barest minimum of clothing on her sun-browned person.
Miss Lyall, like Poirot in his own more subtle way, is at once observing and gossiping. Little does she know that she's about to witness the makings of murder.
'Mademoiselle,' said Poirot and his voice was abrupt, 'I do not like this at all!'

'Don't you?  Nor do I. No, let's be honest, I suppose I do like it really. There's a horrid side of one that enjoys accidents and public calamities and the unpleasant things that happen to one's friends.'
This story, which was later expanded in Evil Under the Sun (1941), neatly reminds Miss Lemon why she enjoys mysteries so much.

*Miss Lemon must note that this American edition, published by Dodd, Mead & Co. in 1937 omits the fourth story included in the British edition published by Collins, "The Incredible Theft." But with writing so blithe and with Poirot and Japp in such high good humour, she scarcely noticed the lack.

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