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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.

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One From the Archive: ‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

Gladys Mitchell, although she has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent decades, was one of the ‘Big Three’ female crime writers of the ‘golden age’, alongside Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.  She was even the recipient of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.  Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, ‘the most gloriously unorthodox female detective’ in the golden age of crime fiction is introduced in the first of Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries, Speedy Death, which was first published in 1929.  Sixty six novels in total were penned in which she appears as protagonist.  Vintage have republished four of her Mrs Bradley novels – the others are The Longer BodiesDevil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper – and have sixteen of her other titles available via their print-on-demand service.

Speedy Death opens with a young woman, Dorothy Clark, being chastised by her brother because she has appeared at the country house, to which many have been invited, on a far later train than she originally specified: ‘Our brother in the front row has been trying to get through to Paddington to find out whether you’d been rendered dead in the buffet through eating one of their ham sandwiches’, he tells her. The host of the dinner is one Alastair Bing, whose son, Garde, is Dorothy’s fiance.  Mrs Bradley, whom Mitchell describes as being ‘dry without being shrivelled, and birdlike without being pretty’, is also a guest at this party.

The main thread of the story comes to the forefront of the novel when, during a dinner at Chaynings, the ‘charming country manor’, one of the guests – much-revered explorer Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to Garde’s sister Eleanor – fails to turn up.  Whilst searching around the manor for him, the other guests discover the body of an unknown woman in a bathtub.  It is believed, upon further investigation, that Mountjoy was actually a woman who was masquerading as a man.  The two men who discover this fact keep it from the rest of the party, and merely tell them that ‘Mountjoy was dead before any of us came down to dinner this evening’.  Almost everyone present at Chaynings takes it upon themselves to try and solve what is believed to be the murder – rather than the accidental death – of the woman in the bath; a technique which holds intrigue.

The case is an interesting one, and holds surprises from beginning to end.  Mitchell’s writing is consistently good, and particularly shines when one regards the conversational patterns which she has crafted throughout.  Her writing is shrewd, intelligent, interesting, and really rather funny.  Speedy Death is so well paced, and is not at all a predictable murder mystery.  Mitchell has such skill as a novelist, and I for one am so glad that Vintage are reprinting some of her work.  Fans of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey are sure to love her.

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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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‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ and ‘Here Comes a Chopper’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

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’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

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

0

‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell ***

‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

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

0

‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

Gladys Mitchell, although she has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent decades, was one of the ‘Big Three’ female crime writers of the ‘golden age’, alongside Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.  She was even the recipient of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.  Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, ‘the most gloriously unorthodox female detective’ in the golden age of crime fiction is introduced in the first of Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries, Speedy Death, which was first published in 1929.  Sixty six novels in total were penned in which she appears as protagonist.  Vintage have republished four of her Mrs Bradley novels – the others are The Longer Bodies, Devil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper – and have sixteen of her other titles available via their print-on-demand service.

Speedy Death opens with a young woman, Dorothy Clark, being chastised by her brother because she has appeared at the country house, to which many have been invited, on a far later train than she originally specified: ‘Our brother in the front row has been trying to get through to Paddington to find out whether you’d been rendered dead in the buffet through eating one of their ham sandwiches’, he tells her. The host of the dinner is one Alastair Bing, whose son, Garde, is Dorothy’s fiance.  Mrs Bradley, whom Mitchell describes as being ‘dry without being shrivelled, and birdlike without being pretty’, is also a guest at this party.

The main thread of the story comes to the forefront of the novel when, during a dinner at Chaynings, the ‘charming country manor’, one of the guests – much-revered explorer Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to Garde’s sister Eleanor – fails to turn up.  Whilst searching around the manor for him, the other guests discover the body of an unknown woman in a bathtub.  It is believed, upon further investigation, that Mountjoy was actually a woman who was masquerading as a man.  The two men who discover this fact keep it from the rest of the party, and merely tell them that ‘Mountjoy was dead before any of us came down to dinner this evening’.  Almost everyone present at Chaynings takes it upon themselves to try and solve what is believed to be the murder – rather than the accidental death – of the woman in the bath; a technique which holds intrigue.

The case is an interesting one, and holds surprises from beginning to end.  Mitchell’s writing is consistently good, and particularly shines when one regards the conversational patterns which she has crafted throughout.  Her writing is shrewd, intelligent, interesting, and really rather funny.  Speedy Death is so well paced, and is not at all a predictable murder mystery.  Mitchell has such skill as a novelist, and I for one am so glad that Vintage are reprinting some of her work.  Fans of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey are sure to love her.

Purchase from The Book Depository