You can’t go wrong with classic crime, can you? Well, I don’t think so, anyway! I was kind of up in the air after my read of “The Tiger in the Smoke”, not quite knowing what to read next. So I did my usual trick which is plump for a vintage murder mystery – and you don’t get much more vintage than this!
Gladys Mitchell and her wonderful detective Mrs. Bradley have been favourites of mine for years – I owned many of her books in the past, but they vanished in the purge mentioned in my last post which was a mistake, as I’ve now had to re-buy new copies. Truly, getting rid of books is a bad idea. Anyway, “Speedy Death” is Mitchell’s first Mrs. Bradley book, and I have a lovely 1980s Hogarth Press purple edition!
The book was published in 1929 and the action is firmly set in that decade by the opening, with two young men meeting a woman from a train. She is Dorothy, the men are Garde Bing and Bertie Philipson, both of whom are in love with her – but it is Garde to whom she engaged. The three drive off to the Bings’ country house where they’re staying for the weekend along with a very motley collection of fellow guests: including the famous explorer Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to the daughter of the house, Eleanor Bing; Eleanor and Garde’s father, Alistair; the scientist Carstairs, who fancies himself as a detective; and of course the wonderful Mrs. Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, noted psychoanalyst.
It doesn’t take long for a guest to be found dead in the bath. Although the host is reluctant to accept this as anything but an accident, another murder attempt follows and the wonderfully-named Inspector Boring comes to investigate. Needless to say, he has no idea, and it’s left to Mrs. Bradley to find out the truth, protect a variety of young women from peril and get to the bottom of everything.
Reading Gladys Mitchell is such fun! Her writing is sharp and funny, the setting beautifully conjured up and the characters well fleshed-out. There’s plenty of drama and, as I recall from earlier readings, the plot is quite dark in places, almost melodramatic. The resolution is satisfying and the final action tense, and we are lucky enough to be introduced to Mrs. Bradley’s son! However, there is one plot device, quite an important one, which is never really explained – if you’ve read the book, you’ll probably know what I mean!
This is a remarkably assured debut for Mrs. Bradley and actually, quite an audacious one. As if she was trying to make her mark on detective fiction, Mitchell presents the reader with a very unconventional detective, and puts her through some rather unusual experiences! But then, Mrs. Bradley is an appealingly unusual character: described as bird-like (in a birds of prey kind of way!) and ugly, she’s certainly not a fluffy little Miss Marple or a lofty Lord Peter. All Golden Age detectives *do* have their own quirk, however, and Mrs. Bradley is a very astute woman – able to see through people’s behaviour, analyse their motives and predict the outcome of events. She’s quite manipulative too, and has a very strong sense of justice, which leads her to some unusual actions…
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because the twists and turns and the denouement are excellent. Suffice to say, it’s as startling as some of the most innovative Christies and that’s high praise indeed. I’d forgotten quite how much I loved Gladys Mitchell’s books and I can see I’ll be spending more time in the company of Mrs. Bradley in the future!