Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Speedy Death by Gladys Mitchell for the #1929Club

Title: Speedy Death
Author: Gladys Mitchell
Publication: Vintage paperback, originally published in 1929
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 20th-century English countryside
Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1929 Club, where bloggers read and write about books published in a chosen year.

Description: A house party has been planned at the country home of amateur archeologist Alistair Bing to celebrate his birthday. The invited and oddly assorted group includes Bing’s son Garde, a medical student; Bing’s fiancée, Dorothy; their friend Bertie Philipson; Garde’s sister Eleanor; an explorer called Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to Eleanor; Carstairs, a naturalist and old friend of Bing’s; and no one is sure who invited the outspoken Mrs. Lestrange Bradley. However, as they sit down for their first meal together, a guest is missing - Mountjoy is discovered drowned in a bathtub. Even more disconcerting, Mountjoy turns out to be a woman! Bewildered by the demise of this guest, the members of the house party must try to solve the murder before one of them is arrested.
My Impression: Although I have always been a fan of the classic British mysteries written in the first half of the 20th century, I had not come across Mitchell until I read Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder which describes the talented authors who formed a Detection Club, discussed if there were rules they wanted their sleuths to follow, whether wrongdoing should be punished, the role of Scotland Yard vs amateur detectives, and much more. Speedy Death is Mitchell’s first book and was not available via my library system so I bought it in June while in London.

A murder that takes place at a house party is always intriguing and this story adds a variation on the locked room mystery, in which the victim is discovered behind a locked door or a place that seems impossible to access. Here, Mountjoy was discovered in a bathtub but the door was not locked. Once the guests realize Mountjoy was disguising her gender, they agree it is not likely she would have failed to lock the bathroom door, so the murderer must have entered from the window. Carstairs thinks he can solve the murder without involving the police:
“What I really want is an intelligent listener,” he said aloud.

“Will I do?” asked Mrs. Lestrange Bradley, appearing with Cheshire-cat-like abruptness from the side of the summer-house and confronting him.

“You will do very nicely,” replied Carstairs, courteously rising. “That is, unless you are a murderer.”

“Of course, I might be,” Mrs. Bradley confessed, “but then so might all of us. And the servants, any of them, or all of them, might be thugs in disguise. It is all very, very confusing, not to say muddling, puzzling, amazing, and irritating. I’ve been in bed thinking it over.”
I found the book entertaining although I did not care for any of the characters, including Mrs. Bradley who is meant to be eccentric. While sexual obsession is a theme of the story, it is only one piece of the puzzle.  I found some of the characters’ labored analyses of who might have climbed in windows or sneaked out of rooms quite tedious, and given such calculations are often central to determining who had an opportunity to murder, it is essential to make this interesting and/or clear to follow. 

Mrs. Bradley starred in 66 books by Gladys Mitchell, a teacher with a strong interest both in Sigmund Freud and the supernatural, according to Martin Edwards. I don’t think I would actively seek out additional books in this series but I am glad to have tried this one. For those wondering about other murders in bathtubs, Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, predates Speedy Death by six years.
Source: Personal copy.  This is my eighteenth book for Carol's 2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.


Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

My review of this is coming tomorrow! I enjoyed it for the characters (ghastly as they were), but agree the plot was a bit of a weak element.

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

I had intended to read this for 1929, then discovered I'd already reviewed it on the blog, so I didn't! I do find the Mrs. Bradley books great fun, but the plots can be far fetched!

Cath said...

I think I've read three or four in this very long series. One or two weren't bad but Mitchell is definitely not one of my favourite vintage crime authors. Case of churning out books willy-nilly, regardless of quality perhaps?

CLM said...

Simon definitely liked it more than I did. I almost always need a character I can care about in order to enjoy a book, and I didn't find that here, despite several appealing elements.

TracyK said...

I have read several of the Mrs. Bradley books and for me they vary greatly in entertainment value. Even though I don't think they are long the stories always seem to go on and on. But I always find something to like in them, if only just the picture of the times.

Sunset over Soho is my favorite, and Groaning Spinney (also published more recently as Murder in the Snow) is a decent Christmas book, although certainly not set entirely around Christmas.