Monday, March 7, 2011

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell

I’ve been slightly distracted by sink problems over the last 48 hours. Something somewhere is leaking, not in an overly sinister fashion, but persistent enough to be damp and annoying. My father phoned with advice but I’m quite tired and could probably have been more lucid whilst trying to describe what was in front of me. Eventually, and under orders, I checked the washing machine filter – it was clear and clearly not the source of the problem but I ripped off half a fingernail and cut a finger in the process, so for now I’m shoving a pan under the drip and waiting for my mother and a larger wrench to visit soon...

I’m sure Gladys Mitchell never had these problems, and beyond certain that Mrs Bradley wouldn’t have been defeated by plumbing (or by plumbers for that matter). She’s certainly not in the least discomposed by seemingly incomprehensible crimes – fortunately she can apply psychology and clear the muddiest of waters in a way that makes no sense to me whatsoever. It’s infuriating and beguiling in about equal measure; I appreciate the hideous Mrs Bradley with her yellow claw hands, bright cloths, formidable strength, crocodile smile, wonderful voice and unique intelligence but have to reconcile myself to the possibility of having not a clue what’s going on.

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop’ isn’t too bad in this respect; it’s odd but entertaining (I particularly liked the absent minded vicar with kleptomaniac tendencies) but what I really like about Mitchell is this:

...’She thinks the Church Catechism is immoral.’
‘So do I,’ Said Aubrey feelingly. ‘I can’t stick learning stuff by heart. But what’s her objection?’
‘The bit about your betters. She says the village children are led to believe it means the squire and the people who go fox hunting and the factory owners who pay women about half what they would pay men for doing exactly the same work.’

It goes on for a little bit more in much the same way but what gets me about it is that it was written in 1930 and we’re still fighting the same battle for equal pay now. Mitchell was a prolific writer – she also had a long career as a teacher. She was clearly a woman with ideas and opinions that she wasn’t shy of expressing and compared to her contemporaries (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers etc) she feels much more subversive. Mrs Bradley does and says outrageous things but crucially she has a career – she doesn’t just stumble on crimes she’s called in to consult and is no Miss Marple who has to conceal her intelligence. I’m so pleased that Vintage have started reprinting these books – there are another three due out in October this year which I look forward to as a welcome post summer/pre Christmas treat.


  1. Very funny way to begin your post. I am a new book blogger and although my husband is waiting for me to watch some MI-5 episodes that we have on Netflix (I think it is called Spooks in the UK), I am having fun reading posts like yours.

    For some reason, I have found a number of UK book bloggers (versus American) which is great as we lived in London for 4 years and I miss the British humor. One more reason to love the Internet!

  2. I've read one Gladys Mitchell, republished by Greyladies so nice to see another company recognising her potential. How are your sink dilemmas now? I am going to attempt to fix my hot water tongiht - my father is bringing me the necessary fuse.

  3. Josh's Mom, thank you - the internet is an mamazing way to lose hours of your day isn't it ;)

    Verity - hope your hot water is back on, I still have drips. Hopfully the tools to do the job will come round later. Gladys Mitchell is odd, but...

  4. I have toyed with Gladys Mitchell before but was slightly put off. Having read what you said I might have to give one a go.

  5. Jo - she's odd and sometimes incomprehensible (to me) but with lots of good bits too. I'm a fan, but if your on the fence it's deffinately a library job...

  6. I'm still deciding how I feel about Gladys. My main problem is the constant descriptions of Dame Beatrice's cackling, clutching yellow claws etc. But still, I've put up with Poirot's little grey cells & Peter Wimsey's piffling all these years... I've read 4 (I think) in the last year & enjoyed 3 of them. I have another 3 from the library, including Butcher's Shop, so that one will be next. Thanks for the review & I hope your sink is fixed soon.