Death and the Maiden by Gladys Mitchell
|Death and the Maiden by Gladys Mitchell|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: Mystery crime in the vein of Agatha Christie. A little ‘tame’ by modern standards perhaps, but an intellectually stimulating read for those puzzle-minded or intrigued by the mores and attitudes of half a century ago.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: May 2010|
Edris Tidson used to grow bananas on Tenerife. Not the world capital of banana growing so far as I know, but I guess such plantations could have existed and certainly they'd be believable when Mitchell penned this classic crime caper in 1947.
Tidson wasn't overly successful as a banana-grower, however, and at the opening of the tale he has brought his Greek wife who revels in (or perhaps suffers under) the geographically appropriate name of Crete, to live in England upon the charity of his second cousin, the elderly Miss Carmody.
Miss Carmody is of the type recognisable from the upper-middle-class genre novels of the day: the elderly spinster of above-adequate means, who can afford to support miscellaneous relatives and companions, but not so rich as to do so without a thought to the expense. Childless herself (naturally) she has taken in a niece, Connie Carmody, and they were getting along most splendidly until the arrival of the Tidsons.
Young Connie cannot abide the incomers. They are interlopers and a nuisance. She is a trifle jealous of the attention lavished on them, resents their disruption of the hitherto quiet life she has led with her aunt and maybe, just maybe, she also worries that their eye is on what she may be thinking of as her inheritance.
One day Edris reads a newspaper report of a sighting of naiad in the River Itchen. "It bears investigating" he said.
And so, naturally, the whole family decide to decamp to Winchester to permit such investigation to go forward.
Well, to be honest, they probably are due a holiday, and Miss Carmody likes the City and is familiar with a particularly suitable hotel in the old town, so why not go in search of a water nymph in an English city backwater?
Not all of Connie's complaints go unheard however, and she manages to convince her Aunt Prissie that maybe Edris isn't all there.
Enter, stage left, Mrs Bradley, part-time investigator, part-time Freudian psycho-therapist and star of some 66 of Mitchell's 70-odd novels.
Adela Bradley is a friend of the Carmody's and is asked to join them unobtrusively at the hotel and "observe" Edris to see whether his obsession with the naiad really is cause for concern or not.
When a young boy is found drowned in unlikely circumstances, it is Adela's investigative skills that are required rather than her Freudian analysis. The arrival of her young protégées (her secretary and a couple of chums from school) gives the whole escapade something of a Mallory Towers jolly hockey-sticks feel, but not to such an extent that it overwhelms the basic mystery. A second body is found and suspicion begins to fall very close to home.
For those not familiar with Mitchell's oeuvre (and that includes me) this is a wonderful introduction. It is full of the classic ingredients of the genre: ghosts, unexplained injuries, secret passages, inefficient policemen, Scottish caricatures for hotel servants and the fundamental importance of the arcane knowledge of fly-fishing.
Each chapter is headed with a rural quotation: extracts from the Diary of A Country Parson, or The Compleat Angler or A Summer on the Test – not all of which seem immediately relevant to the plot in hand, but which serve to embed the rurality of the whole. Mitchell herself doesn't go in for long descriptions of place. Although she clearly knows her ragged robin from her rambling rose, settings are limited to what we really need to know. For the most part, she focuses on character and more importantly keeping up the pace of progression.
Of course, it is slightly silly in parts, wonderfully deliciously absurd in others, but it still manages to hold together in the sense that the clues and the red herrings are perfectly balanced, the puzzle is enticing enough to make you want to solve it before they do, and it speaks well of a time and a place (middle-class, mid-20th C. England) that are long gone. It is – in short – eminently readable.
If you enjoy Allingham or Christie you will love this.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: If you liked this, further intelligent crime mysteries of the time that you might enjoy include Marjory’s Allingham’s Coroner’s Pidgin - or just to prove it can still be done Traveller by Ron McLarty.
You can read more book reviews or buy Death and the Maiden by Gladys Mitchell at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Death and the Maiden by Gladys Mitchell at Amazon.com.
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