Gladys Mitchell, one of the most prolific female detective novelists, is one of those writers whose work divides critical opinion. Philip Larkin was a huge fan, for instance, but Julian Symons did not have too much time for her. I read one or two of her books a long time ago and was not particularly impressed, but recently I decided it was time to give her another go. And my choice for today's Forgotten Book is a rather enjoyable story dating back to 1929, The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop.
This book marked the second appearance of Mitchell's remarkable detective, Mrs Bradley. She is living in a quintessentially English village, which happens also to be home to a rather unpleasant blackmailer who goes missing in mysterious circumstances. Suffice to say that you don't need me to tell you what is eventually found in the eponymous butcher's shop…
It is a mark of Mitchell's unique style that she is able to combine decapitation and dismemberment with plentiful humour. Some of the jokes do not stand the test of time, and the dialogue of the working-class characters is almost unreadable. Yet the book does have, despite various flaws, an enduring charm which explains why Vintage have reprinted half a dozen titles in the Mrs Bradley series. Mitchell offers multiple potential solutions to her mystery, with a flair worthy of Anthony Berkeley, and we are supplied with extracts from Mrs Bradley's notebook, as well as two plans and a timetable. Finally, there is a pleasing twist which sees Mrs Bradley taking a rather idiosyncratic approach to the notion of justice.
One further thing struck me about this book. Not far from the village is to be found "The Stone of Sacrifice" – and in my Lake District Mysteries, there is a Sacrifice Stone close to where Daniel Kind has his cottage. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!