My relationship with Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley started some years ago care of the Diana Rigg television version in the late ‘90’s. I looked hard for the books at the time, but for once in a way there was no tie in republication, so no Gladys Mitchell for me. A good decade later I found one printed by Virago (The Rising of the Moon) and was very taken with the dark and threatening atmosphere of it all, but at the time still no other affordable or easily available versions of the sixty five other Mrs Bradley novels Mitchell wrote. Frustrating, and surprising for a woman who was admired by Philip Larkin, won the silver dagger award and was a member of the detection club along with Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie.
Finally last year Vintage put an end to my periodic whinging on the subject by re releasing three Mitchells, and now three more have appeared. After the first three (loved one, ambivalent about another, never finished the third) I began to understand why she had been out of print for a while. Producing a book or more a year for over fifty years it’s not perhaps surprising that quality seems to be a bit variable, a writing career spanning from 1929 to the early 1980’s will inevitably include some books which have aged better than others, and (I’ve been consulting wikipedia) some inconsistencies in the heroines back story.
Having hugely enjoyed ‘Death at the Opera’, and now being half way through ‘Death and the Maiden’ which I’m also really enjoying, I find I don’t care about Mitchell’s faults (as I see them). I hope that Vintage keep on bringing them out – she’s just such an interesting writer, and nothing like any other golden age crime writer I’ve known and loved. It’s Mrs Bradley herself that I adore, she’s an older lady with a tremendous past, an expert knife thrower with a penchant for wearing bright and clashing colours, she has a lovely voice and a hideous aspect variously described as being crocodile or boa constrictor like. She has a knife sharp intellect being an eminent psychiatrist, gets on well with children and seems totally fearless, has been married more than once, has an elastic take on morals, and has travelled extensively. In short quite the woman and in honour of that fact I can overlook instances in the plot that don’t make a lot of sense to me.
‘Death at the Opera’ (a relatively early Mitchell from 1934) has a multitude of red herrings as well as some entirely incidental murders. The eventual discovery of the killer doesn’t seem terribly important in the end – I can’t say more without totally revealing the plot and thereby ruining the book for anyone planning on reading it, which would be a shame. Mrs Bradley’s take on right and wrong (not the same as Miss Marple’s for example) is just what I wanted to read; nothing too black and white and a whodunit element to keep me guessing is exactly what the book doctor would have prescribed.