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When Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore writes to Hercule Poirot to unceremoniously summon him down to the Chevenix-Gore ancestral pile, Poirot is initially reluctant to go. However, there is something that intrigues him and so catches the train that Sir Gervase wanted him to. On arrival, it is clear that no-one was expecting him, and, for the first time in memory, Sir Gervase himself, who is always punctual, is missing. Poirot and guests go to his study and find him there dead, having apparently shot himself. Poirot is not convinced, however, and soon starts to prove that Sir Gervase was murdered because of the position at which the bullet struck a mirror. And not being the most popular of men, there are any number of suspects, including his own daughter and nephew. Can Poirot prove who the murderer is?
For many years, I struggled to sleep at night and got into the habit of listening to an audio book after the light has gone out - somehow it helps to stop the mind from racing and lulls me to sleep - not because the story is boring, but because it soothes. This is one of my favourite stories. Dead Man's Mirror is a short Poirot story by Agatha Christie and thankfully, this version of the audio book is unabridged and comes on CD, lasting for approximately two and a quarter hours. This is not a dramatisation; rather, it is read as it is by Hugh Fraser, who of course plays Captain Hastings in the television version. Dead Man's Mirror was published as part of a collection of short stories under the collective name of Murder in the Mews.
Hugh Fraser does a superb job of reading the book. His Poirot accent is so good that I initially thought it was David Suchet (the actor who plays Poirot) reading. As with all Agatha Christie stories, there are a number of characters, yet Fraser manages to do a different voice for each character, depending on their class, profession, home-town and sex. His female voices are particularly good - he somehow manages to make them sound authentic without bordering on the ridiculous. And he manages to switch between characters flawlessly. I don't know how many takes it took to reach the desired quality, but there is certainly no sign of jumpy editing. There are few narrators that are of Hugh Fraser's level - he really is one of the best that there is.
This is a short story, so there isn't a great deal of time to develop the characters. However, Agatha Christie manages to do so in a very short space of time. It soon becomes clear that Sir Gervase is not a pleasant character, suffering from ego-mania and therefore very unlikely to want to kill himself. His wife, Wanda, is a fluttery woman who finds it hard to concentrate on anything, but really did love her husband. Their daughter, Ruth, is a hard, modern young woman who has the men of the area at her beck and call. Very quickly, the characters take shape, yet not to the point that a listener could be certain that they were not involved in the crime.
What the characterisation and Hugh Fraser's brilliant accents does bring home is the difference between classes. Although Poirot himself does not presume that anyone from the upper class could not commit murder, it is built in to the story to a certain extent. Those of the lower classes are either deeply suspicious or considered so unimportant as to fade into the background. This is no surprise considering the time that the story was written (1937); nevertheless for younger generations listening to the story, it will probably seem very old-fashioned and possibly a little bit offensive.
The story is not one of my favourite Poirots - that honour goes to Five Little Pigs and Hercule Poirot's Christmas; nevertheless, it is a very entertaining one, probably all the more so because it is not too long, making it ideal for an audio book. The way that Christie drip feeds the information to us is, as always, flawless and it is hard not to listen all the way through. She manages to keep just enough information back so that the ending, when it comes, is a complete surprise. Just as well I know the story off by heart, or I wouldn't manage to get to sleep at all!
This CD would be a perfect gift for anyone who is both a fan of audio books and Agatha Christie or crime fiction. Audio books aren't for everyone - I know many people who would far rather read a book - but if you know someone who struggles to switch off at night or has failing eyesight, then they are an excellent idea. Best of all, this story isn't abridged and yet is still of a very manageable length - some unabridged audio books can go on for so long that, by the time you've reached the end, the beginning is almost forgotten. Definitely recommended.