Friday, 1 March 2013

Forgotten Book - Speedy Death

Speedy Death, my Forgotten Book for today, was published in 1929. It marked the arrival not only of Gladys Mitchell, but also of her remarkable detective Mrs Bradley. Both went on to enjoy long and notable careers, and Mrs Bradley even had the accolade of appearing on television in the unexpected person of Diana Rigg. I say "unexpected" because even here, when she was aged 57 (not old at all!) her appearance is constantly compared to that of pterodactyls and aged lizards.

I've had very mixed feelings about the other Mitchell books I've read, as I've mentioned in previous posts about her. She was an extraordinarily variable writer, and I suspect that she wrote too much and too quickly. Yet she had genuine talent, as well as an interesting perspective on life and human nature. And I must say that I really loved this book. It is hugely entertaining, and although -like almost every first novel - it has flaws, it is actually the most enjoyable Mitchell that I've read.

Mrs Bradley is invited to a country house party. Familiar territory in the Golden Age, to put it mildly. A corpse is discovered in the bath. Well, Dorothy L. Sayers had done something similar six years earlier. But wait! The corpse is that of a woman who has been masquerading as a man. I couldn't imagine Agatha or Dorothy using that as a plot device for a novel.

There are some great lines in this book. My favourite exchange is when Mrs Bradley asks the Chief Constable: "Have you heard of sexual perversions?" The Chief Constable nods. "Not a pleasant subject," he says curtly. Enough said! In the mix, we have a weird homicidal maniac and a barmy trial scene in which Mrs Bradley is defended on a murder charge by a top barrister who just happens to be her son,. It's all a bit wild, but it's also tremendous fun.


Anonymous said...

Martin - A fine review, for which thanks. Some of the Mrs. Bradley mysteries really are quite good. And I must admit to a sneaking liking for the clever solution to this mystery. Thanks for the reminder.

Clothes In Books said...

I read this a while back - it's a strange book, because it seems to have the classic golden age tropes, but as you say, it is completely bizarre. I can't imagine what readers thought when it was first published.

Sextonblake said...

I read it a few years ago, and absolutely loved it. It works as a whodunnit, but also deliberately tramples over a lot of the unspoken traditions of the Golden Age. There is a gleeful sense iconoclasm and anarchy running through it. Mitchell IS an enormously variable writer, but at her best she was very good.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I found it unreadable. I only bought it because I wanted to complete the series of Golden Age detective novels with a particular twist (three so far). The house party members can't leave because of the police investigation, but it only shows how dire and pointless house parties must have been. Hell is other people. I didn't find Mrs Bradley amusing, or any of the "jokes" funny. Sayers, Christie and Marsh do a much better job of sending up the psychoanalysis fad.

J said...

Could folks here recommend one of the better Mitchells? I have read WATSON'S CHOICE and DEATH AT THE OPERA, and didn't find either much to my taste.