Today’s title has been reprinted a few times, so some readers may be more familiar with its alternative title, Murder in the Snow. In this second title, the Yuletide setting is more evident, and this is a setting which fits in well with my tendency to read Christmas set mysteries outside of Christmas.
Our story begins with Mrs Bradley deciding to spend Christmas with her favourite nephew Jonathan Bradley, (and his much approved of wife, Deborah,) in the Cotswolds in their newly acquired country manor house. As the first few chapters unwind, we encounter the various residents of the area and their seasonal guests, including the local ghost of a parson who died in the 19th century, who according to two guests has made a recent appearance leaning over a gate. As the holiday progresses so does the snow, making outside travelling a hazardous and restricted activity and there is also a problem of a poison pen writer doing the rounds. Eventually we get our corpse, who is aptly found where the ghost is usually seen. Yet the dead body is not one you’d expect, nor is their seemingly accidental death. The local land agent comes under much suspicion, despite his convenient knee injury. Alongside this big mystery, there are also a number of smaller odd goings on for Mrs Bradley and her family to puzzle out, though they give themselves plenty of time, with this novel’s finale appearing in the spring…
I’m not the biggest of Gladys Mitchell fans, but when I read this book I realised….
… that this hasn’t changed at all! Although to be fair the first third of this book is the best. It is unusual to see Mrs Bradley so indecisive as she is at the commencement of the book, in deciding whether to go to the Cotswolds or not for Christmas, as well as about her unfathomable feelings of repulsion towards a resident there. But fear not, Mrs Bradley, is soon true to form and even gets likened to Lady Macbeth, though her pushing others into action is at least intended to solve a murder and not commit one. We also get a rare glimmer into her childhood when it is said that she ‘had not cried since she was four, but […] believed that crying at the pictures was a morbid symptom and reflected deep-seated neurosis built on self-pity, made no contribution to the discussion.’
The cast for this story is quite a large one and Gladys Mitchell does indulge in some unusual names such as Tiny Fullalove and the Dickensian named Worry, (a gamekeeper’s dog). Many of the human characters are attached to a specific occupation such as Tiny who is an ex-policeman who worked in India, Gregory Mansell who is an archaeologist and there is also an emergency training college for women next door to Mrs Bradley’s nephew’s home. To be honest I think there are too many of these occupational themes and as a consequence they are not made much use of. Generally speaking, I don’t think the reader really gets to know the characters that well, so it was hard to maintain interest in them after a while.
Having read a few novels by Mitchell, I would say this is one of her more conventional plots, though like some of her more weird and unusual ones, this one drags on far too long. Very little happens in the first few days of Mrs Bradley’s visit, so it takes a while to arrive at any big hit events. The poison pen angle of the mystery is an interesting thread at the start of the book as it is not easy to decide what the writer’s end game is. Equally a life insurance angle makes the central death more interesting. Yet unfortunately the investigation into all of these events lacks energy and purpose. It takes place over too long a time period and for most of the book the interviews we are privy to yield little in the way of useful information. So how Mrs Bradley arrives at the solution is beyond me, though witnesses at the end of the book do start bothering to mention rather crucial things at Mrs Bradley’s prompting. The solution itself is tortuously strung out over many, many, many chapters, so the slightly unorthodox ending somewhat lacks impact.
Oh well at least it was a free book…
Calendar of Crime: January (9) Snow bound country house mystery