Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell

The village of Spey, the location of the exclusive school Spey College, and Mrs Bradley is on the prowl for a witch. To be precise, a spell book in the possession of a local witch, but she soon becomes distracted when a master of the school is found murdered. Gerald Conway was, it seems, unpopular with students and staff alike. But when he is found in the garden of one of the other masters, Mrs Bradley decides to investigate.

The body was apparently drowned, so suspicion falls on the school baths, but how did the body get to where it was? Why wasn’t it left in the water? And, most importantly, why can’t I remember more about this book despite only reading it a week ago?

Well, this will be a short one. It’s perfectly readable, unlike some of Mitchell’s work (Hangman’s Curfew, anyone?), but it’s far from perfect. The mystery is perfectly fine, although the killer was, I thought, fairly obvious. What is interesting is how much Mitchell assumes the reader knows about public school life, with various terminology being used casually – now I teach in a school but there were a few bits that I had to think about. There are also a couple of politically incorrect bits, with an African student being referred to as Tar-Baby, and there are a few flashes of anti-semitism from a couple of the characters, a sign of the times, I hope, rather than of the writer.

Anyway, it’s a decent enough read – a somewhat overly verbose shaggy dog story, sporadically entertaining, but with a mystery that is a little too straightforward. Worth A Look.

4 comments

  1. Hmmmm. Would you say any of Mitchell’s works reach the top drawer? Most reviews suggest that her novels are stuck in the middle or bottom of the writing desk. So far I’ve only read two – ‘Death at the Opera’ and ‘Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop’ – and I think I liked the former better. Even then it felt at best good, and not great.

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