Still going with “Golden Age Month” on the blog, and it’s time for Gladys Mitchell, writer of 66 mysteries featuring Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley. You may be aware of the short-lived TV series featuring Diana Rigg, which played fast and loose with the stories and, most importantly, the character and appearance of Mrs Bradley herself.
Bella Foxley killed her Aunt Flora by poisoning her grated carrot. She then threw her cousin Tom out of the window of a haunted house. She was acquitted in court but no-one seemed to doubt her guilt. When she retired to the country with her sister and drowned herself, no-one was really surprised.
Years later, Mrs Bradley stumbles upon Bella’s diary which causes her some concerns. Was everything really as it seemed? The inconsistencies in the diary seem to indicate that events were not as clear-cut as it seems so she dives headlong into a mystery involving poltergeists, escaped young offenders, séances, and someone is willing to let the past stay dead…
Sixty six books in a highly regarded series – it seems odd that Mrs Bradley has only featured once before on the blog – The Saltmarsh Murders – nearly two years ago, but as I had a number of issues with that one, it’s maybe unsurprising that I’ve not returned. Certainly I tried a couple of time to get through Come Away, Death, but Gladys Mitchell has an extremely variable writing style. Sometimes it’s very readable, sometimes it’s almost impenetrable.
This one, I’m glad to say, falls into the “very readable” category, especially after a few mis-fires recently on the reading list. In fact, it’s a real page-turner, an impressive feat given that the “investigating a past crime” sub-genre can be quite dull when not done well.
Mrs Bradley is less abrasive in this book than in others – rather essential give that she’s front and centre on almost every page. The plot has some good twists and Mitchell plays a clever game with parts of it. Having a small number of suspects and, even then, making me look the wrong way was quite an achievement. Admittedly, if, in hindsight, you think about why some of the events occurred – why was the diary written, for example – you realise that some things occurred to service the plot rather than realism, but nonetheless, this was a very enjoyable read that will certainly have me coming for more. Recommended.