Speedy Death by Gladys Mitchell

Speedy DeathEnter Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley. At a house in the country, Alastair Bing has assembled his family and acquaintances, but when they sit down to dinner, one of the chairs, that belonging to noted explorer Everard Mountjoy, is empty. On investigation, he is found in his bath, drowned. Or rather, she is found as the dead body is clearly that of a woman…

Convinced that the killer will strike again, the psychologist (her actual qualifications are a little unclear) Mrs Bradley is determined to act before someone else lies dead. But soon a second body is found in a second bathtub…

Beware of spoilers. That’s the whole point of this blog as if you know certain things about certain books, it removes what is to me the essential part of the book, namely the mystery. Sometimes it still works – usual one of Agatha’s – but often not. I’m very careful about what I find out about books that I haven’t read but sometimes things leak out. Someone told me who the killer was in Crooked House about thirty five years ago and despite never reading the book, I’ve never forgotten. Grrr. And when reading a general article about Mrs Bradley, it happily spoiled the central clever bit about this book. Which makes it pretty hard to review.

Gladys Mitchell, an early member of the Detection Club, and arguably more deserving of the title of one of the Queens of Crime than Ngaio Marsh, wrote this one in 1929. I’ve reviewed her a couple of times, really liking When Last I Died and being much less impressed with The Saltmarsh Murders. Which seems to reflect the variable nature of her output. She certainly made the effort to change her style from book to book, but this is the one that kicks it all off.

As I’ve mentioned before, don’t expect the Diana Rigg Mrs Bradley to appear on paper. Apart from the seeming omniscience, there’s very little in common with that portrayal and the fairly unpleasant individual on show here.

This is a pretty odd book, to be honest. It has all the trappings of the traditional country house but with the radical notion (for 1929) that a character has been masquerading as a member of the opposite sex for the past few years. Except nothing is done with it. There’s an awful lot of “That’s a dead woman. And Mountjoy’s disappeared”. No one ever thinks to ask if the dead woman actually looks like Mountjoy at all. And apart from one brief discussion, there is no real point to the cross-dressing. No motivation is ever ascribed to it and after a while, this novel idea with a lot of potential is barely mentioned.

One of the policemen is called Inspector Boring. I think that’s supposed to be withering satire rather than a weak joke. Just so you know.

And the mystery? Well, I knew the crux of it going in, but it still seemed pretty obvious to me. There seems to be an inevitability to the whole thing and apart some strange comments from Mrs B in the opening sections that seemed designed to mislead someone who knows what I knew when reading it, there didn’t seem to be any surprises. I’m curious what people who read this completely blind thought of it, but I was underwhelmed to be honest. I’ll try again with one that I don’t know anything about, but I’m not holding out that much hope.

Oh, Death Walks At Eastrepps is on its way but I left the book at work over the weekend. Stay tuned.

10 comments

  1. I’ve not read this one but I also know too much about it including the “shock” ending. So I’ll probably not ever be reading it unless I have some major memory loss in the future. Interesting that I feel exactly the same way about WHEN LAST I DIED and THE SALTMARSH MURDERS. I’ve collected many, many of her books over the years long before they suddenly became incredibly easy to obtain both in paperback and digital formats. But I’m only reading the well thought of books and avoiding all her duds. And she had a lot of duds! Related to you anecdote about CROOKED HOUSE — back in my teen years I learned of the ending to THE PROBLEM OF THE WIRE CAGE and just like you have never forgotten it. I’ll probably never read that Carr book now.

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      • What irritates me most about “The Problem of the Wire Cage” is that one essential clue is only mentioned once in passing early on in the book before the murder takes place, and never mentioned again until the explanation at the end. Not only that, but it’s bonkers in the first place!

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      • Yes, the behaviour of the victim in The Problem Of The Wire Cage is unbearably stupid. However, for me what takes the prize for stupidity is the action of the victim who dies by dehydration in Paul Halter’s The Seven Wonders Of Crime.

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  2. Though I have not read this book, I think I know the “shock” ending from the remarks made by you against one of Ronald Knox’s rules, referring to this 1929 book !

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