Gladys Mitchell is one of the most popular Golden Age mystery writers, and her books have far outlived her. Her works amount to more than 60 books, which is no mean achievement by any standards. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment as an author is the creation of Mrs. Bradley, a witty and derisive character who appears in nearly 66 books.
Who is Gladys Mitchell?
Gladys was born Gladys Maude Winifred Mitchell, on 21st April, 1901, at Crowley, Oxford. Her father, James was a market gardener. Her mother was named Jane. Gladys received her education from Rothschild School and The Green School, and graduated from University College London. As a young lady, Gladys was a teacher in a number of high schools, where she taught English, History and Physical Education. Throughout her teaching career, she took up writing novels, and virtually wrote a novel every year. Even upon retirement from Matthew Arnold School, Staines, she continued writing books until her death on the 27th of July 1983, aged 82 years. Gladys never got married.
Gladys Mitchell Works
Gladys Mitchell’s books have been labeled as some of the best mystery novels of the early 20th century. She was a member of the detective club alongside other legendary mystery authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayer. She also belonged to quite a number of writers’ associations, such as PEN and the Crime Writers’ Association. She was fascinated by some concepts such as psychoanalyses, and it is therefore no wonder that her star character, Mrs. Bradley is a full- time Freudian. She was also interested in witchcraft, an interest that was sparked by her close friend and fellow detective novelist, Helen Simpson. In the 1930’s she was considered one of the “Big 3 Women Detective Writers”, a title that she truly deserved.
Aside from her murder mystery novels, Gladys also wrote several other book series using the pseudonyms, Stephen Hockaby and Malcolm Torrie. She also wrote ten children’s books using her own name. Most of her books reflect the moral values of the English people in the period following the war, and her stories are narrated in the most charming and captivating of manners.
Gladys Mitchell books into films
Several of Gladys’ books have been adapted into television shows, and there are also quite a number of radio adaptations of her books. Some books from which some radio adaptations have been made include Speedy Death and The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop. A series titled the Mrs. Bradley was also produced, although many people disliked it because the Mrs. Bradley portrayed on the show was much more polished and good looking than the weird character created by Gladys.
Gladys Mitchell’s Books
A Speedy Death
This book revolves around the mysterious death of a dinner guest. It has very interesting twists and turns, some of which are the most unexpected. In this book, readers are introduced to Beatrice Adele Lestrange Bradley. This old lady is anything but formidable. She neither has the looks, nor does she have good character. She does not know how to mind her language, and her continual scathing remarks make many want to keep a safe distance from her. Her saving grace is her intelligence and wit, although her domineering and demeaning character does a lot to detract from this one good thing about her. She is a continuous source of humor in the books because of the way that the author describes her, using such unconventional names reptilian and hideous. She also has an annoyingly crackling laughter: she is certainly not someone you want to have as an ally.
But she often manages to save the day, thanks to her sharp brain. In this case, she is invited to a house party at Alastair Bing’s house, as a show of gratitude for her having Alastair’s son. Other guests include Alastair’s son, Garde, his fiancée, the lovely Dorothy, Garde’s friend, Bertie Philipson, Eleanor, Garde’s quiet and extremely competent sister, and Carstairs, a curious naturalist. The guests start becoming somewhat restless when one of the invitees, an explorer named Evarard Mountjoy, delays unduly to arrive for the dinner. Mountjoy is also Eleanor’s fiancé. Upon conducting a search, Mountjoy’s is found dead in a bath tub. To everyone’s horror, it is discovered that Mountjoy was actually a woman, who disguised herself as a man.
The easily excitable Carstairs insists that Mountjoy was murdered, and together with Mrs. Bradley, they set upon discovering who the murderer is. All would have been very well if only the murder stopped with that of Mountjoy, but every now and then, Mrs. Bradley has a new murder to deal with. Everyone who attended the house party is treated as a suspect of the murder, and as usual, Bradley does a good job outwitting and uncovering the murderer.
This story is weaved seamlessly by a master’s hand, and it is engrossing in every sense of the word. Humor is also very well employed in the book, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing out loud at the many humorous situations in book. It truly is a page- turner.
Salt Marsh Murder
This is another addictive book by Gladys Mitchell. The story here revolves around a young housemaid who gets impregnated out of wedlock. To make matters worse, she works for a reverend who serves in a very religious community. The maid tries to keep the name of the child’s father secret. One day, she is found dead, and the police set out to capture the murderer. When Mrs. Bradley comes into the picture, she handles the situation in an unconventional manner, but still manages to find the real murderers.
The story is narrated by a naïve young curate, Noel Wells whose timid narration evokes laughter from readers. He strictly adheres to the rules and standards of his society, to the point of doing so rather humorously. The curate also appears to suffer from a lack of self- esteem, or utter lack of self- awareness, which is portrayed in a rather funny manner.
Gladys knows how to engage her readers, and it is not surprising that by the end of a book, the deep loathing readers develop towards Mrs. Bradley at the beginning of the book melts into a warm love. She is one to be admired and hated at the same time- which is something that only a talented writer like Gladys can manage to pull off.