#1051: Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie – ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’, a.k.a. ‘Hercule Poirot and the Broken Mirror’ (1937)

Do you like interviews? I hope you like interviews.

The longest story in this collection, at title story for those of you in the US, ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’, a.k.a. ‘Hercule Poirot and the Broken Mirror’ (1937) finally gives us the impossible crime that was so tantalisingly hinted at, without ever actually being realised, in the opening brace. The shooting of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore in his study is fairly comprehensively established as suicide by a few simple expedients: everyone is able to account for their whereabouts when the shot was heard, and the study is found with the windows bolted and door locked from the inside with the key in the dead man’s pocket. Not that Hercule Poirot was ever one to let small matters such as these get in the way of a good murder.

Chevenix-Gore is an interesting proposition, sounding more like the sort of screaming baronet who might populate one of John Dickson Carr’s later novels…

He had been on an expedition to the Pole. He had challenged a racing peer to a duel. For a wager he had ridden his favourite mare up the staircase of a ducal house. He had once leapt from a box to the stage and carried off a well-known actress in the middle of her rôle.

…and it is to be regretted that we never actually get to meet the man before his untimely demise. After all, anyone who can get under the skin of Poirot simply be sending him a letter must be a holy terror of the most entertaining proportions.

“I have had, you see, a letter from him. It was an unusual letter… It summoned!”

“A royal command,” said Mr. Satterthwaite, tittering a little.

“Precisely. It did not seem to occur to this Sir Gervase that I, Hercule Poirot, am a man of importance, a man of infinite affairs! That it was extremely unlikely that I should be able to fling everything aside and come hastening like an obedient dog — like a mere nobody, gratified to receive a commission!”

A brief mention there of Mr. Satterthwaite — who has made Poirot’s acquaintance before in Three Act Tragedy (1934) — who is himself subject to another example of Christie’s own superbly understated rakings when it comes to laying his character bare:

Mr. Satterthwaite’s conversation was apt to be unduly burdened by mentions of his titled acquaintances. It is possible that he may sometimes have found pleasure in the company of Messrs. Jones, Brown or Robinson, but, if so, he did not mention the fact.

Indeed, there many delightful character beats in this tale, such as from the Chief Constable, Major Riddle, who is summoned upon the discovery of Chevenix-Gore’s body:

“[Ruth Chevenix-Gore]’s a devilishly attractive girl. Has played havoc with most of the young fellows round here. Leads them all on and then turns round and laughs at them. Good seat on a horse, and wonderful hands.”

“That, for the moment, does not concern us.”

I don’t know what you’re all so happy about.

It’s almost a shame, then, that what should be a frothy brew spiced with a clear divide ‘twixt generations — witness their different opinions on making and, crucially, breaking a marriage — devolves into round after round of interviews, especially as at half the length and with a little more are taken in its construction there’s actually a very clever little story here. Instead, the adopted daughter is interviewed, then the local land agent is interviewed, then the lawyer is interviewed, then the old family friend who’s always carried a torch for the newly-widowed Lady Chevenix-Gore is interviewed, then the woman helping to write the family history of the Chevenix-Gores is interviewed, then the friend of the adopted daughter is interviewed, then Lady Chevenix-Gore is interviewed…and, no, they don’t happen in that order, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell me what order they do happen in even if you’d just read the story, wouldn’t you?

Christie was far from the only Golden Age writer to do this, of course, and when you’re writing at high speed and with a minimum of concern what someone is going to think about your story 86 years later a set of interviews is a very easy way to get the necessary information across, but it’s such a shame that this promising setup and mildly clever crime gets so mired in round after round of people just saying stuff. Poirot investigates some footprints, but then he quickly gathers everyone and tells them whodunnit and…well, it’s clever, but it’s also really quite underwhelming. And it’s also informed by what might be the single most useless map of a crime scene ever committed to paper — I mean, c’mon. Who decided that that was a necessary part of the telling of this story?

A few points of interest do present themselves, however: Poirot is not nonplussed by the categorisation of someone as being “[n]ot quite out of the top drawer”, presumably because he learned the expression in ‘Murder in the Mews’ (1936) a few weeks back. And yet — aha! — when Geoffrey Burrows is referred to here as “slightly hairy at the heel” this “baffle[s] Poirot completely” despite it, too, being a repeated turn of phrase from that earlier story…where he also didn’t understand it (no, no-one else on the planet cares, but I want it noted that I was paying attention). Also, thank the lord, someone in a classic era crime fiction story who isn’t desperate to marry their cousin (“…we’d probably have completely batty children” — yes, yes, you would).

So a mixed bag, and one that’s perhaps better if not examined too closely. Here’s hoping next week’s tale sees the collection finishing on a high note.


Stories in Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie

  1. ‘Murder in the Mews’ (1936)
  2. ‘The Incredible Theft’ (1937)
  3. ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’, a.k.a. ‘Hercule Poirot and the Broken Mirror’ (1937)
  4. ‘Triangle at Rhodes’, a.k.a. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ (1936)

3 thoughts on “#1051: Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie – ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’, a.k.a. ‘Hercule Poirot and the Broken Mirror’ (1937)

  1. A shame that this wasn’t totally to your liking. I blame the mores of the day where things have to be action, action, action all the time and folks just don’t have the time to sit and listen to what people are saying. 🙂 (Or in this case, read what they are saying.)

    But hey, I don’t mind it when Ngaio Marsh does it in her novels either, so what do I know?

    As far as the plot goes, I think this is pretty clever, and the earlier version “The Second Gong” shows that it is in fact possible to construct a wholly different solution to the problem which feels almost as satisfying.

    Ah well, “Triangle at Rhodes” should perk up your mood. I don’t remember it being as reliant on interviews, and it has another clever little plot. Which you probably might recognise from somewhere else…


    • But that is what’s so interesting about stories like this when there are interviews, the interesting thing is in what people “say” where a suspect might slip and accidentally reveal themselves or they might obviously attempt to conceal something. I like this kind of stuff because it keeps my mind whirling around and using my own “little grey cells”.


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