How nice to find a Mrs Bradley book that I enjoyed, and a Christmas one too.
My first two experiences of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley books were not positive. I read a fairly poor all cast production of her first book, “Speedy Death” and tried again with the third book in the series “The Longer Bodies” which, while it worked as a curiosity that showed how early crime fiction flopped about like a recently landed fish on a dock before the modern genre emerged, wasn’t a satisfying read.
I decided to try one last time, with a much later book, the twenty-third in the series, originally published as “Groaning Spinney” but cleverly re-titled as “Murder In The Snow – a Cotswold Christmas Mystery”, which points it firmly at the Christmas cosy mystery market.
I had fun with this book. Published in 1950, it nicely captures a sense of an England in transition, where the role of the gentry is changing and men of all classes have returned from the war with different expectations of themselves and each other. Mrs Bradley goes to stay with her nephew, who has just bought a portion of a country estate sold off by a Peer of the Realm. He owns the manor house and a few farms and woods. The rest is owned by the State and is being used a (new at the time) Teacher Training College. I was fascinated by the wealth and privilege that Mrs Bradley’s nephew took for granted, while at the same time trying to get the locals NOT to refer to him as “Your Lordship” – a title he doesn’t hold.
In the beginning, the book does a splendid job of giving a Landlord’s view of life in a small Cotswold village at Christmas time. The local characters are clearly drawn, from the carter through the farmer to the land agent. The principle of the Teacher Training college is also shown to advantage although she and her staff and students are seen as earnest, enthusiastic curiosities.
The murder and the plot that spins from it was quite interesting, with lots of unexpected but plausible connections that held my interest while making it impossible for me to solve the whodunnit riddle.
Mrs Bradley is presented as an energetic, almost manic woman, with preternatural powers of observation, an appetite for the hunt and deep insight into people without the impediment of empathy.
There were points where I found the exposition a little clumsy and a little over-worked. There was a sequence of “Mrs Bradley Explains It All” scenes which were differentiated only by Mrs Bradley picking a new person to expound to. OF course, Mrs Bradley plays her cards too close to her chest to explain it all. She teases the reader by using her audience as sounding boards without telling them why she is testing her point of view.
But this was minor. The plot was interesting and the pace was adequate. There was a substantial amount of local colour, from archaeology through to joining the local hunt, and enough action to keep my attention.
This was a solid, Christmas cosy mystery and a big improvement on my previous encounters with Mrs Bradley. I shall be back for more from this period.
I listened to the audiobook version, which was released in March this year and was narrated with brio by Patience Tomlinson (shame about the cover).
Click on the Soundcloud link below to hear a sample.
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