The village of Willington is preparing for war. In the first months of the Second World War, windows are being blacked out, the Report Centre monitors the local area for enemy action and water cisterns are being built in case of fire. The last one fascinates two local boys but when one of them goes for a swim in it, he discovers – guess what? – a dead body.
In fact, in a very short period of time, three bodies are found in Willington. Apart from the unknown woman in the cistern, a Town Council member is found in a doorway, poisoned by arsenic, and a red-headed worker at the Report Centre is bashed over the head with a rock. With no obvious links between the deaths apart from the timing, the police are at a loss. Luckily the niece of Mrs Bradley happens to be working in the Report Centre…
Brazen Tongue is the eleventh Mrs Bradley mystery, long unavailable and extremely rare, and is on record as being “a horrible book”. That might be an unfair thing to say, but it was from no less an authority than Gladys Mitchell herself, so I think we might have to listen to her. Having said that, it’s not a horrible book – Hangman’s Curfew, that’s a horrible book – but not this one. It should be noted that while not being horrible, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s great.
This is another book in my “Do Mention The War” series, books written and set during the Second World War, notably when the outcome was uncertain. Published in 1940 and set in 1939, it depicts village life as initial preparations are being made – at one point Mrs Bradley is knitting a balaclava – and the water cistern plays an important role in the opening section.
After that, however, the wartime setting seemed to fade into the background with Mitchell preferring instead to tell her whodunit tale, but they are still there – blackout checks, for example. And there is a rather unpleasant caricature of an immigrant Jewish woman – what the hell is that accent supposed to be? To an extent as well, it’s worth mentioning that the war plays a little into the motive – I think.
When I say “I think”, it illustrates the primary problem I had with this one, namely the ending. It mostly consists of Mrs Bradley and the local police discussing their theories, all of which are partly true. But it goes all over the place and I needed to make notes to keep track of what happened. Basically, it goes
- Here is my long theory
- No, you’re wrong
- Here is my new theory
- That’s wrong, here’s what happened
- So I was mostly right?
- Yes, I was just being bloody-minded when I said you were wrong. Hey readers, try and work out exactly which bits are right.
There is a nice idea buried in the plot, although it all seems a pretty extreme method to solve a problem, but at the end of the day, it’s all a bit garbled. It holds the attention longer than some of Mitchell’s output – and I will add a caveat here that I read a chunk of it on an airplane while trying to combat jetlag – but it’s a bit too flawed for me. Fans of Gladys should like it though – there’s a much more positive review here.