Gladys Mitchell is a Golden Age writer who definitely falls into the category of "an acquired taste".I'm not sure I've wholly acquired that taste, and yet there are aspects of those of her books that I've read that I find admirable. Yet these invariably need to be balanced against various shortcomings. This is true of Dead Men's Morris,my Forgotten Book for today, which first appeared in 1936 and which is rated highly by a number of Mitchell devotees.
Mrs Bradley, Mitchell's detective, is in fine form here, cackling manically on her way to solving a rather elaborate mystery.The first victim dies (apparently from natural causes) early on Christmas Day in rural Oxfordshire, and the cast of characters includes not only a couple of Mrs Bradley's relatives but also assorted rustics, who speak in a dialect that becomes wearisome after a while (even the local police inspector speaks in dialect - over-egging the pudding, I felt).
Disparate ingredients are hurled into the mix - pig farming (the second victim is savaged by a boar), Morris dancing, a secret passage, a legend about a ghost, a couple of cryptic clues and a brief visit to the then premises of the Detection Club, of which Mrs Bradley was an honorary member, and to which Mitchell herself had recently been elected. There are even a couple of lawyers,one a victim, one a suspect, though neither bears the faintest resemblance to a real life solicitor. The most credible person in the entire story is a likeable young boy, and one can tell that Mitchell was fond of children..
What I like about Mitchell's writing is its sheer exuberance. The gusto with which she describes her detective's gleeful investigation is matched by the wackiness of the plot. Some people assume that Golden Age writers were prudish about sex, but here the sexual adventures of two young women play a part in the story; there are no graphic details of what they get up to, but even so...
If you haven't read Mitchell, she is definitely worth a look. Whether she is worth more than one look is a matter of personal taste. Some fans love her, Julian Symons (arguably the best crime critic of all, but someone who could be a severe judge) was utterly unimpressed. My own feeling is that, taken in small doses, Mitchell at her best is fun. And, though this book is characteristically eccentric, it does boast a very neat last line.