Not so great Gladys?

"The Great Gladys" was how the poet, Philip Larkin, described the crime writer, Gladys Mitchell; one of the lesser known names of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Mitchell was born in 1901, studied at Oxford and became a teacher. Her first book was published in 1929, and introduced readers to her detective heroine, Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, who would continue to entertain readers for the next 50+ years.

In style I would say she is nearer to Margery Allingham than to Christie, Sayers, or Ngaio Marsh. There is an odd other-worldliness to her novels (at least judging from Tom Brown's Body, the first I've read). Mrs. Bradley, professional psychiatrist, researcher into the supernatural, and amateur sleuth, investigates when she happens to be in the wrong place at the right time. All is not well at a boys' boarding school, when an unpopular master is murdered in very strange circumstances.

To be honest, this really didn't grab me. It was an interesting comparison read to other crime novels of the same period, but it just didn't draw me into it - although quite why not when it had a quirky cast, a pseudo-Roman bath, and a dollop of witchcraft, I don't know. Perhaps it was because I found the characters largely unbelievable, especially Mrs. Bradley - I'm afraid I didn't warm to her. While Mitchell seemed quite happy to break the rules of detective fiction whenever she felt like it. A particular bete-noire of mine.

It was entertaining, it certainly wasn't the worst detective novel I've ever read, but "Great?" Perhaps I just got the wrong book....


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