Sir Rudri Hopkinson, an eccentric amateur archaeologist, is determined to recreate ancient rituals at the temple of Eleusis in Greece in the hope of summoning the goddess Demeter. He gathers together a motley collection of people to assist in the experiment, including a rival scholar, a handsome but cruel photographer and a trio of mischievous children. But when one of the group disappears, and a severed head turns up in a box of snakes, the superlative detective and psychoanalyst Mrs Bradley is called upon to investigate…
There is a little story that that goes with this book. I bought it and I started reading it the same day (a week Saturday just gone) even though I have Tom Brown’s Body, Death and the Maiden, Death at the Opera and The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop already. I bought them an age ago (probably around the last review I wrote of When Last I Died) and they’ve been patiently waiting. Buying a new one though meant that I didn’t have to choose. I just got cracking.
This time we find Mrs Bradley having a holiday, sort of. It’s not really a holiday as she’s in Greece accompanying the eccentric Sir Hopkinson on his pilgrimage to call on the gods and having the role of matriarch to the group that accompanies him. And for that it’s a quite a leisurely tale. The murder comes quite late so it’s more about guessing who it’s going to be and why. It does keep you wondering as you follow the group on their travels.
What did strike me is that Mrs Bradley is quite amoral at times; hiding things that other detectives probably wouldn’t . She doesn’t have the ‘helping police’ thing that you get with her contemporaries. It would spoil it to explain further but it makes her quite refreshing when she keep secrets that others would probably reveal.
It is a story about the interactions of the different characters and how those tensions and connections play out while waiting for the severed head to turn up. So I’d say it was more like a domestic drama with a death thrown in towards the end. And lots of drama there is – secret weddings, affairs, jealousy, visitations, madness, disappearing snakes, oh and the murder.
As it feels more like a drama than a mystery story it lacks a certain tension but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. It is fascinating if you have a liking of ancient history. It’s a little jolly around a few ancient sites and a little bit of a history lesson thrown in.
In December Vintage are releasing another twentyish books in the Mrs Bradley Mysteries series making the total releases into the thirties – so about half of the 66 written – and from the three I’ve read so far Gladys Mitchell likes to mix up her formula and from that I’m not sure you know what you’ll get next. But you know what? I think Mrs Bradley is a character to keep reading where ever Gladys takes her.