One From the Archive: ‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ and ‘Here Comes a Chopper’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

First published in May 2014.

The Devil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper, published in 1935 and 1946 respectively,are two more of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries which have been recently republished by Vintage.

In The Devil at Saxon Wall, Hannibal Jones, a friend of part-time detective and psychoanalyst Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, travels to the ‘perfect rural retreat’ of Saxon Wall in Hampshire, in order to focus upon his writing.  He becomes quickly interested in the mystery which surrounds local Neot House, in which a young couple died after their first child was born.

The second thread of the story comes when a man is found bludgeoned to death after ‘disagreements between the villagers and their vicar grow more malevolent’.  Throughout, Mitchell focuses upon different characters – here, the book opens with Constance, a resident of Neot House, who has been ‘royally happy’ since her marriage to Hanley Middleton.  The third person perspective which has been used throughout suits the story, and Mitchell’s writing feels rather thoughtful.  She continually considers events from more than one perspective, which makes the reader feel as though she is a wonder at her craft.  The plot in The Devil at Saxon Wall is clever, and whilst the book is quite a light read, it is sure to be a great holiday companion, whose plot will linger in the mind for a long time after the last page has been read.

Here Comes a Chopper is, predictably, named after the rhyme.  Its plot begins when a pair of lost ramblers – Roger Hoskyn and Dorothy Woodcote – stop at a country house: ‘The sun had almost set, and it occurred to both the walkers that the common was desolate and that they were becoming uncomfortably hungry’.  They are surprised when they are invited in to dinner with little hesitation.  Their host, ‘the superstitious lady of the house’, has invited them ‘as a necessity… to avoid thirteen guests sitting down to dinner’.

The thirteenth guest, however, does not turn up.  His headless body is found in woodland the following day.  As with all of the other Mrs Bradley novels, this is when Beatrice Bradley comes to the forefront of the novel, intent as she is upon catching the murderer.  The story in Here Comes a Chopper is clever, and it has been both written well and considered marvellously.  Mitchell certainly deserves as wide a readership as Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, her contemporaries, already enjoy.  It is with high hopes that these Vintage reprints – and the promise of many other Mrs Bradley mysteries forming part of their print-on-demand service – will make her a household name once more.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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