One From the Archive: ‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell ***

First published in May 2014.

The Longer Bodies, first published in 1930,is the second of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley novels to be published by Vintage.  Mitchell, a contemporary of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, was an incredibly prolific crime author, publishing one book each year, and bringing her total of Mrs Bradley novels to over sixty. 

One of the protagonists of The Longer Bodies is Great Aunt Matilda Puddequet, who is ‘enormously wealthy’ and ‘enormously mean’.  Mitchell describes her as ‘a very old lady, parrot-beaked, shrill-voiced, and imperious’, who will happily hold a grudge for decades.  In effect, she is the catalyst who brings the rest of the characters together, deciding to summon her grand-nephews ‘to perform in a games tournament in order to secure their inheritance’.

The Yeomonds are the first family whom we meet in this respect.  Francis, Malpas and Hilary are pitted against one another to ‘win’ the inheritance, and the boys are only interested in doing so in the hope that they might beat their cousins.  The father of the three Yeomond boys, Godfrey, who believes Great Aunt Matilda to be a ‘vinegar-tongued old hag’, says this of her when he learns of her proposed tournament: ‘The only thing she seems inclined to give away without stint… is unasked for advice’.  He tells the boys: ‘Of course, the idea itself is absurd, but then, what are the old for, if not to impose their absurd ideas on the young?’

As one might expect, the family rivalry between the different branches of Great Aunt Puddequet’s family abounds.  A second layer of the story is introduced when something ‘queer’ about the house begins to make itself known, causing a few of the young characters to begin to worry.  The novel’s crime comes when a man named Jacob Hobson goes missing from the local village, and is reported to have fallen into the lake on Great Aunt Puddequet’s estate.  When marks of murder are found upon his body, Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a part-time detective and psychoanalyst, is asked to find his killer.

The story follows the same witty and acerbic pattern which is introduced with Godfrey, and the entirety of The Longer Bodies is filled with marvellously memorable characters in consequence.  Mitchell’s writing is intelligent, and her plot is crafted meticulously.  The novel is very of its time – we have ‘talkies’, mention of one cousin being in disgrace for running away to join the Bloomsbury set, and such language as ‘jolly good!’ and ‘splendid’.  Whilst this novel is not as gripping or as intriguing as the story within Speedy Death, the first of the Mrs Bradley mysteries, The Longer Bodies is sure to delight any fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, and Mitchell’s work comes highly recommended.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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