Thursday, May 27, 2010

Death and the Maiden – Gladys Mitchell

I should (still) be writing up sales reports and the like, but realise I’ve spent the last hour tidying my bedroom (not saying it didn’t need it because it did, but...) and have come to the conclusion that if I’m not going to concentrate on work for a bit than I should write up what I thought of ‘Death and the Maiden’ before I forget, which would be a shame because I loved it.

This has to be my favourite Mitchell so far and is exactly why I’m happy to stick with her through thick and thin. Bits of the plot are still a bit hazy to me but that’s okay, and I have to say that more of it made sense to me than usual. Indeed hazy bits included I thought it was a particularly ingenious plot with a compelling and convincingly nasty villain.

Without giving anything away there are reports of a water nymph sited near Winchester and the eccentric Edris Tidson (who has reappeared in London with an expensive young wife and the intention of living of his cousin Prissie, much to the disgust of Prissie’s young ward Connie) soon convinces the whole family to pack bags and go nymph hunting. At this point Prissie calls in Mrs Bradley to pronounce on Mr Tidson’s sanity and then two young boys are found dead... from this point on the plot twists and turns in a way that very satisfactorily passes the time until the eventual conclusion. The identity of the killer is never really in doubt, but working out how it was done, and then in fact having to wait until I was told why it was done, was more than enough of a challenge to keep me interested. Even if it hadn’t been the Mitchellism’s would be more than enough to keep me happy. This for example as a description of a professionally dour Scotsman with something on his mind:
“what will ye?” he enquired, looming like a minor prophet with a major message, uncompromisingly beside the tiny table.”

Or this when Mrs Bradley pulls a psychological rabbit out the hat:
“...he MUST HAVE SEEN THE NAIAD!’ She suddenly bellowed these words in the ear of the unfortunate Mr Tidson’s right ear, so that he jumped like a gaffed salmon and had the same expression on his face that one sometimes sees on a dead fish – at once surprised and peevish.”

I can’t resist this kind of thing. It’s so wonderfully English and gives the right period feel to a plot that’s easily disturbing enough in its essence for the darkest contemporary drama. I found this perfect reading for an early summer’s weekend not least because of a series of evocative and beautiful descriptions of the river and riverside in all its glory. Beyond that the mix of mystery, slightly tongue in cheek humour, coupled with the intellectual exercise of trying to work out if the plot held together, and in the end who precisely was guilty of what kept me very happily absorbed when I should have been doing something sensible and worthy. Really can you ask for much more from a book?


  1. I love books which keep you absorbed when you should be doing something worthy - I hate to confess it but I once spent a whole day absolutely gripped by a Jilly Cooper when I shold have been revising for my A levels. Oops! This sounds a lot more literary and really rather good - I've not read any Gladys Mitchell.

  2. But who killed the second boy?