When Miss Marple meets with her old friend Ruth, she is persuaded to look in on Ruth’s sister, Carrie Louise. Currently living in a mansion with her extended family at Stonygates, which has been converted into a home for delinquent youths, run by her husband, Lewis Serrocold. Ruth is convinced, in that old detective fiction way, that something is undefinably wrong at the house. When Miss Marple arrives, she too senses… something. But not before tragedy strikes.
Carrie Louise’s stepson arrives with suspicions as well – someone is trying to kill her. But before he can clarify his suspicions, he is shot dead on a night full of incident. As the police arrive and enlist Miss Marple’s help, it seems that the killer is becoming more determined to carry out their plan. And all the time, Miss Marple’s thoughts keep returning to magicians – hence the title…
It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’m not going into any plot details in this one beyond what’s above, but it’s really, really obvious who the killer is. Isn’t it?
The thing is, I read the book a long, long time and can’t remember if I spotted it the first time round. But the main plot idea stuck in my head long after the rest of the book had faded so I knew going in whodunnit. It uses a few of Agatha’s more straightforward tricks – in a new set-up, true – but any experienced reader’s not going to fall for it.
And the rest of the book’s rather dull, to be honest. There’s a reasonably large number of police-interviewing-suspects sequences and given the suspects (or the police) aren’t that interesting in the first place, they drag a bit. The scenes with Miss Marple are better than the rest, but given how early she twigs the idea of magic being related to the crime, she should come to the truth earlier. Certainly it seems that two people die after she’s virtually worked out who the killer is while she dithers a bit.
There is one nice idea, concerning Carrie Louise’s view of her surroundings and family, that arises at the end, but it’s too little, too late. Not one of the finest entries in Miss Marple’s canon. If you’re going to read it, read it early before you get used to Dame Agatha’s tricks.