Review: The Mystery of a Butchers Shop by Gladys Mitchell (1930)

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When Rupert Sethleigh’s body is found one morning, laid out in the village butcher shop but minus its head, the inhabitants of Wandles Parva aren’t particularly upset. Sethleigh was a blackmailing moneylender and when the peerless detective and renowned psycholanalyst Mrs Bradley begins her investigation she finds no shortage of suspects. It soon transpires that most of the village seem to have been wandering about Manor Woods, home of the mysterious druidic stone on which Sethleigh’s blood is found splashed, on the night he was murdered, but can she eliminate the red herrings and catch the real killer?

Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is a wondrous creation. She’s gnarled, rich and wickedly humoured. She’s also interfering. These qualities makes her a perfect candidate of a detective. And like Christie or Doyle Mitchell was quite prolific.

To give you an idea Vintage have already published 13 books featuring this devilish detective and and this month are going to be releasing 20 more (4 normal paperbacks with 16 as print on demand and all are available as ebooks). They’ve been coming out quite sporadically up until now with Vintage choosing their favourites before filling in some gaps.

This is to explain why I’m now reading Mrs Bradley’s second appearance (my next read is the first  the series Speedy Death) but from the ones I’ve read so far it doesn’t seem to matter what order you read them in as Mrs Bradley doesn’t have any development but is more a mechanism to let the other characters kill each other and then nose around until she finds the murderer.

I read this one in two parts. The first half I read last year (around Halloween) but I picked it back up a few days ago and devoured the rest. Partly what I struggled with in the first half is the habit Mitchell has of dropping you into a scene with lots of dialogue but not grounding you in the scene by having the characters give some context to the scene.

It’s not something I struggled with from reading her other books and I think Mitchell got lots of  opportunities to practice her technique. But maybe it was me as well as I was much more comfortable with the cast of characters and what was being described when I picked it up again. Maybe it just took some time to get up to speed? As for the murder itself as it says in the blurb it looks quite simple but pinning it down takes Mrs Bradley some time.

The cast of characters here is entertaining with their personalities all quite different. Mitchell is great at exploring motivations and giving them layers of problems and interest so that no character feels like a cardboard walk-on. And when I got to the end I was annoyed in a good way as Mitchell manages to keeps you on your toes. Mrs Bradley is no goody two-shoes and the ending proves it.

As a book which is 84 years old you may think it would have dated but it doesn’t really. It doesn’t have modern obsessions with gore, flawed detectives, and its glamour is understated rather than gaudy. It feels classical if that makes sense.

I honestly can’t wait to see where Mitchell places Mrs Bradley next.