Gladys Mitchell’s stunning debut

Crime writer challenged the conventions of the genre in first novel

The Vintage Books edition of Speedy Death
The Vintage Books
edition of Speedy Death
Prolific detective fiction writer Gladys Mitchell, who was born on this day in 1901, was judged by reviewers to be an outstanding novelist right from the start of her career.

She got off the mark quickly in 1929 with Speedy Death, her first novel featuring her amateur sleuth, Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, and she never looked back.

She wrote a further 66 crime novels featuring Mrs Bradley and built up a large and loyal following for her eccentric but brilliant detective.

Gladys was born in Cowley in Oxfordshire. She graduated in history from University College, London and embarked on a career as a teacher.

She wrote at least one detective novel a year while working and was an early member of the Detection Club along with Agatha Christie, G K Chesterton and Dorothy L Sayers.

Gladys Mitchell wrote 67 Mrs Bradley mysteries
Gladys Mitchell wrote 67
Mrs Bradley mysteries
Gladys studied the works of Sigmund Freud and made her series detective, Mrs Bradley, a distinguished psychoanalyst. She also developed an interest in witchcraft, which features in some of her novels.

In 1961, Gladys retired from teaching but she continued to write detective novels at her home in Dorset. She received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.

Gladys died in 1983 and her last Mrs Bradley mystery was published in 1984.

In Speedy Death, Mrs Bradley is a guest at a country house party. When one of the guests, Mountjoy, a legendary explorer, is found drowned in the bath Mrs Bradley is convinced it is a case of murder and she joins forces with another house guest, a scientist, to try to solve the crime. The first thing that marks this book out from other Golden Age mystery novels is the scene when the naked body is discovered in the bath and the victim, who everybody thought was a man, is revealed to be a woman.

Diana Rigg played Mrs Bradley in the BBC TV series
Diana Rigg played Mrs Bradley
in the BBC TV series
Mrs Bradley is described as birdlike without being pretty. She has claw-like hands, yellowish skin, a cynical smirk and a sinister laugh. However, she manages to inspire loyalty and respect from young and old alike when she turns her powerful intellect to solving the crime.

Gladys also turns the conventions of the cosy crime genre on its head in Speedy Death with a surprising twist to the plot near the end. I would recommend it to crime fiction fans as well worth reading for that alone.

The BBC screened a five-episode series entitles The Mrs Bradley Mysteries between 1998 and 2000 featuring Diana Rigg in the title role. The storyline of the first episode was based on Speedy Death.

Speedy Death was republished by Vintage Books in 2014.

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