Alastair Bing’s guests gather around his dining table at Chaynings, a charming country manor. But one seat, belonging to the legendary explorer Everard Mountjoy, remains empty. When the other guests search the house, a body is discovered in a bath, drowned. The body is that of a woman, but could the corpse in fact be Mountjoy? A peculiar and sinister sequence of events has only just begun…
Speedy Death is the first novel of sixty six to feature Gladys Mitchell’s detective Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a polymathic psychoanalyst and author, and it sets the model for the all the other ones I’ve read so far. Though it also introduces an aspect of Mrs Bradley’s character that I didn’t (and probably wouldn’t) have known without reading this. I won’t spoil it but it definitely makes her stand out from the Miss Marples of this world.
The body in the bath is a unlocked door mystery where no-one seems to have a strong alibi. This really isn’t a spoiler as the body and the unlocked nature of the room are revealed by the end of the first chapter. What is clever is how Mitchell spends the next 322 pages rattling round the same country house with the same core characters without it feeling drawn out.
The strength of this book is how Mitchell keeps presenting each character for analysis, which giving us time to get to know them and to consider whether they are the murder. Mrs Bradley is, interestingly, placed off to the side though you’d think that being a guest she’d be in the perfect position to snoop and inform the readers in reader.
Instead, another guest instigates the investigation and draws Mrs Bradley into their confidences but having her become interested does draw her into the judgemental gaze of the police. You can see that Mitchell is challenging usual conventions of disbelief like the one where the police accept help without placing any suspicions on the helper.
What is particularly sweet is the other characters reactions to finding out that the male Mountjoy and the women in the bath could be the same person. Not one of them made that the issue, which is unexpected 1929. The setting makes a contemporary version of this novel unrealistic but I feel that today’s grittier writers would make it a source of conflict.
I love the unexpected nature of Mrs Bradley, she’s a bit of unwanted guest here, as it does make herself very useful and indispensable at key moments.
Honestly it ticks all the cosy crime boxes. If you’re a fan of cosy crime or clever mysteries please do give it a go.
Next up in the series for me: The Longer Bodies.