Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Saltmarsh Murders - Gladys Mitchell (1932)

Author's 4th book.  Includes the gimmick of Mrs. Bradley's notebook as an Appendix and the last time this appeared in a Mrs. Bradley book. Why is this considered one of the best?  I found much of Mrs. Bradley's cackling and poking Noel Wells, her dense aide in sleuthing, in the ribs to get old very fast.  Granted the inclusion of an unmarried pregnant woman as the murder victim seemed to be ahead of its time for 1932, but the detective elements of the story bothered me.  Rather the lack of them.

How did she know that Burt was a pornography dealer?  That just came out of nowhere – no clues, no evidence, nothing!  She knew Mr. Gatty was in the church crypt based on a single sentence by the "mad" Mrs. Gatty (something about a wolf being caged in a sheep fold) and it seemed like a guess.  All of Mrs. Bradley's Freudian "psychological observations" seem incredibly dated and judgmental.  That they serve as the primary evidence from which she draws her conclusions seems forced.

I read these books to be entertained because Mitchell can be wickedly funny and unforgiving in her character portraits.  Many of her early efforts in the genre are clearly meant as satires and often parody the work of her contemporaries.  Speedy Death makes fun of Sayers' Whose Body?  The Mystery of the Butcher's Shop is thought to be a send-up of the work of Agatha Christie.  In this book we have yet another English village very reminiscent of St. Mary Mead in Murder at the Vicarage. The difference is Mitchell's vicar might be a lecherous murderer, there is a loony woman who thinks everyone is an animal, and the couple who run the local pub might be baby killers.

I guess I'm not a big fan of Mitchell, though there are a handful of her books that are very well done. Merlin's Furlong, written in the late 1950s, is one I highly recommend.  It was one of the few Mitchell books I have read without being annoyed repeatedly.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of only two books by Mitchell I've read, and don't ask me what the other was. I don't have any notes on it, or even a rating, but I don't remember it as being so frustrating as you think. Probably just rosy hindsight on my part. Good review, thanks!