Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Camera
Decided to have another look at Gladys Mitchell’s work on the blog today and this week Mrs Bradley is travelling in and around Greece and throughout the book the world of the ancient Greeks is referenced a lot, especially its’ literature. Some of these references are more accessible than others – I’m still at a loss as to why Mitchell decided to preface all her chapters with quotes from the Aristophanes’ play The Frogs. However, her likening of the smell of sewage, awaiting Mrs Bradley when she arrives in Athens, to a ‘siren song,’ was quite amusing.
The title of this novel, Come Away Death (1937), could well be an allusion to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and in a way there is a thematic link of entangled and complicated relationships and the odd broken heart. The book opens with Mrs Bradley going to stay at Sir Rudri Hopkinson’s home and his wife Marie, immediately informs her of her concerns about her husband and his latest scheme to discover what the Eleusinian mysteries were really like by recreating the actual conditions and ceremonies. A form of early experimental archaeology if you will. Not only is she concerned by Rudri’s mental stability she is also worried about the inclusion of Alexander Currie, who is meant to be Rudri’s friend, yet they continually fight and argue, especially since Currie publically embarrassed Rudri in archaeologically circles. Also going along are Rudri’s children, Megan, Ivor and Gelert and Currie’s children Kenneth and Cathleen, as well as Kenneth’s friend Stewart. There are additional non-family and friend members going and Marie is especially worried about the photographer Armstrong, a very good looking but very immoral young man. I think my favourite introduction to a character is with Ronald Dick, another young man going on the trip and Mitchell says of him that ‘he’s such a temperamental boy – most boys with spectacles are!’ Who knew?
From the very beginning of the trip things do not go right and inter-group animosities soon surface and Cathleen is convinced that death is stalking one of the party. But who will it be, with revenge and greed filling the group at a rapid rate? And has Rudri really gone mad? There is also the issue of a prankster plaguing the group and when snakes are added into the mix things certainly do not bode well. It is a worrying moment when the sanest, most sensible person in the group is Mrs Bradley who has the unenviable task of managing the others. Violence of course eventually breaks out amongst the party and it is up to Mrs Bradley to unravel the mystery.
As expected Mrs Bradley enters the story in an unconventional and loud way wearing a ‘mauve motor veil with yellow spots’ and her grin still has the power to terrify or unnerve those around her. Unlike many of the other trip members, Mrs Bradley is adept at coping with the difficult travelling conditions, having ‘the constitution of a lizard’ and she jokingly suggests she is ‘almost the incarnation of’ a snake. When the situation requires immediate action she able to act ‘decisively, like a suddenly swooping bird’ and when reticence is required Mrs Bradley is also up to the task, acing in the manner ‘of an old and cunning tortoise.’
Rudri is another interesting character who seems stuck in the past almost and I liked how the text emphasises the incongruity of Rudri’s trip and his surroundings:
‘She could see him, dogged idealist and romancer, proceeding ploddingly the while along the petrol-haunted, dusty Sacred Way which now led, in the age of progress, the world no longer young, from one Greek slum to another.’
One thing that did amuse me was the quote on the cover of my copy from Edmund Crispin, who asserts that Mitchell has a pellucid writing style. To be fair to Mitchell this narrative is more clear and coherent than say The Twenty Third Man (1957), but all the same I’m not sure pellucid is a word I would use to describe Mitchell’s oeuvre.
I think my main issue with the book was its length as the plot felt very stretched at points, which affected the pacing of the story and in the first half there is definitely a lack of focus. There is a general feeling of something sinister going on, but nothing definite for Mrs Bradley to follow up. There are dramatic moments but the density of the book at times reduces their impact. I think the book had a lot of good elements in it, but I don’t think Mitchell capitalises on them as much as she could have done and this meant for me that the ending, with Mrs Bradley’s usual unconventional justice, fell rather flat.