Good reviews on BookLikes convinced me to try out Gladys Mitchell’s rather unique take on the female upper-class sleuth. I’m one of those folks who feels obliged to start such things from the beginning, so I went in search of an audiobook version of the first book “Speedy Death”.
I could only find a BBC dramatisation that presents “Speedy Death” and “The Mystery of the Butcher’s Shop” in a condensed version that accords only ninety minutes to each.
“Speedy Death” is presented at a pace worthy of the title. The overall feel is that of a pantomime intended for adult consumption. The cast is competent. The production standards are smooth but perhaps a bit too tongue-in-cheek. It seems to me that the dramatisation is cosy almost to the point of being self-mocking whereas the themes in the book: murder, extra-judicial execution, transgender living, lesbian attraction, abusive men and a self-possessed, manipulative older woman would have been quite shocking when the book was published in 1929. Gladys Mitchell seems to be playing Quentin Tarantino to Agatha Christie’s more conventional Cohen Brothers but the BBC has turned her efforts into something close to a farce.
“Speedy Death” is populated by damaged, privileged people who seem to have no understanding of just how broken they all are. Mrs Bradley, our heroine is a high-functioning sociopath, strong on insight and short on empathy, who stalks ruthlessly and gleefully through the pack of upper-class walking-wounded, mentally vivisecting them with accuracy and obvious, almost manic, pleasure.
I finished the dramatisation “Speedy Death” feeling that I’d been shown the pop-up book version of what might well be a fascinating novel.
Things got worse when I reached “The Mystery Of A Butcher’s Shop”. The main murder committed here seems to be by the BBC who effectively killed this novel by slap-dash attempts at humour and a script so clumsy as to be negligent. They added insult to injury by inflicting “Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones” as a chorus sung at random intervals.
I suspect that this novel never had a particularly strong constitution as it leans too heavily on the sensational supported by the improbable but the BBC have managed completely to drain it of any life it once had.
I’m interested in reading Gladys Mitchell but I’ll stick to her text in future.