How Sigmund Freud inspired detective novelist Gladys Mitchell

Writer explored her own interests in her novels and short stories

Gladys Mitchell wrote novels alongside a career in teaching
Gladys Mitchell wrote novels
alongside a career in teaching
Today marks the anniversary of the death in 1983 of Gladys Mitchell, who was once regarded as one of the top three British women detective writers. 

She wrote 66 novels featuring her amateur sleuth, Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, as well as mystery novels under the pen name, Malcolm Torrie, and historical adventure novels under the pen name, Stephen Hockaby.

A teacher by profession, Gladys wrote at least one novel a year throughout her career.

She got off the mark in 1929 with Speedy Death, which introduced Mrs Bradley, and she never looked back, gradually building a large and loyal following for her eccentric, but brilliant, detective.

Gladys was an early member of the Detection Club along with Agatha Christie, G K Chesterton and Dorothy L Sayers, but frequently satirised or reversed the traditional patterns of the genre.

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 continued to write her detective novels. She received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.

Gladys Mitchell's story, Our Pageant, is included in Serpents in Eden
Gladys Mitchell's story, Our Pageant,
is included in Serpents in Eden
The last Mrs Bradley mystery was published in 1984, the year after the author’s death in Corfe Mullen, a village in Dorset, at the age of 82.

Gladys was interested in architecture, ancient buildings, folklore and British customs, themes that were often explored in her novels and short stories.

She originally published many of her short stories in the Evening Standard, but they are now being made available to detective fiction fans again in the anthologies published by the author Martin Edwards for the British Library Crime Classics series.

Our Pageant, a story by Gladys Mitchell first published in the Evening Standard in the 1950s, is included in Serpents in Eden, a volume of countryside crime stories published in 2016.

The story does not feature Mrs Bradley, but it reflects the author’s enthusiasm for British customs. It is very short, only four pages in total, but Gladys makes every word count and there is, of course, a twist at the end. It is well worth the read.

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The Murder on the Links

Second Poirot novel sees the detective triumph over his Parisian rival

Agatha Christie's second Poirot novel takes her Belgian detective to the coast of northern France
Agatha Christie's second Poirot novel takes her
Belgian detective to the coast of northern France
An urgent appeal for help from a mysterious millionaire brings detective Hercule Poirot to France. But he finds he is too late. He is told on arrival that his client has been brutally stabbed to death. The victim has been left in an open grave on the golf links near his villa, where a new bunker was in the process of being dug

The Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie’s third detective novel, was published in March 1923 in the US and in May the same year in the UK, where it was put on sale for seven shillings and sixpence.

It was the second novel to feature Poirot, the little Belgian detective, and his sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings. They had formed a somewhat unequal sleuthing partnership in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha’s debut crime novel.

In his second case, Poirot finds himself up against the illustrious Monsieur Giraud, a detective from the Paris Sûretè. Giraud resents Poirot’s involvement in the investigation and will not listen to the experienced Belgian detective’s opinions.

But Poirot knows the case is not all that it seems and looks carefully into the strange circumstances surrounding the murder. He discovers that the motive for the murder is connected to a crime committed more than 20 years before.

Poirot uses his understanding of human nature to help him solve the crime, citing a serial wife killer who used the same method each time, believing that what had once succeeded would succeed again. He says that eventually the killer paid the penalty for his lack of originality!

The latest reprint of The  Murder on the Links
The latest reprint of The 
Murder on the Links
Reviews when the book was first published compared Agatha and Poirot favourably with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries. One reviewer said Poirot was ‘a pleasant contrast to most of his lurid competitors’ and that they suspected he had ‘a touch of satire in him.’

Having embarked on the mammoth task of reading all Agatha’s 76 detective novels in chronological order, I recently read The Murder on the Links for the second time. It was many years after I had read it for the first time and I expected the novel to seem dated and far simpler than I actually found it to be. I was amazed at how complicated the plot was and how skilfully Agatha encourages the reader to believe one thing, whereas the opposite is in fact the case.

Agatha Christie’s biographer, Laura Thompson, has said of The Murder on the Links: ‘It is very French, not just in setting but in tone, which reeks of Gaston Leroux.’ Agatha had read and been influenced by Leroux’s 1907 novel, The Mystery of the Yellow Room, one of the most celebrated locked room mysteries.

Laura also notes that the book is notable for a subplot in which Hastings falls in love, allowing the author to pack him off to wedded bliss in 'the Argentine', a development that was apparently greatly desired by Agatha.

To the relief of Hastings fans, the author did bring him back from 'the Argentine' from time to time to assist Poirot with his future cases.

The Murder on the Links sees Poirot triumph over his arrogant sleuthing rival, Monsieur Giraud, and gives us a good idea of why the Belgian detective was always to succeed in finding out whodunnit for the next 50 years. I think the novel is well worth reading, or even rereading.

(Picture of French resort by Peter H via Pixabay)

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Writer created Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, then brought him back again

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, pictured in 1914, aged 55
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, pictured
in 1914, aged 55
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer who invented Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective in the history of crime fiction, died 91 years ago today at his home in Crowborough in Sussex.

Conan Doyle left a legacy of 22 novels, including four featuring Sherlock Holmes, and more than 200 short stories, of which 56 told of the exploits of his brilliant detective. In addition, he wrote many non-fiction books, poems, plays and pamphlets.

He had studied medicine and, like his future character Dr Watson, he became a physician. While at the University of Edinburgh medical school, Conan Doyle had been a pupil of the surgeon Joseph Bell, whose deductive processes impressed him so much that he later used him as a model for Holmes.

In 1887, Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, a compendium published each year from 1860 to 1898. He followed this with a historical novel and an adventure novel. Then in 1890, Spencer Blackett published Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four.

The following year, Conan Doyle began to practice as an oculist - a physician specialising in eye health - in Wimpole Street, just off Harley Street in London. Fortunately for his devoted readers, he had so few patients he decided to write some short stories about Sherlock Holmes for a new monthly magazine, The Strand. These proved so successful he decided to give up medicine and concentrate on writing full time.

Holmes became the world’s most famous fictional detective and inspired the fictional detectives created by hundreds of crime writers who came after Conan Doyle.

The edition of Beeton's Christmas Annual featuring A Study in Scarlet
The edition of Beeton's Christmas
Annual featuring A Study in Scarlet
The brilliant detective and his partner in investigation, Dr John Watson, have fascinated millions of readers all over the world. His famous phrase, ‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ has delighted the audiences of the many theatre, film, television and radio productions made from the stories.

At one stage Conan Doyle became unhappy about the enormous success of his Sherlock Holmes stories eclipsing his more serious historical and romantic novels. He tried to wipe out the great detective at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in The Adventure of the Final Problem in 1893, but he was forced to bring Holmes back, following strong public demand, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in 1901.

In his later years, Conan Doyle campaigned and wrote about miscarriages of justice and also helped the Government before the First World War by writing recruitment pamphlets.

He also became interested in Spiritualism and wrote about it and lectured about it all over the world. Following a lecture tour of Scandinavia and Holland, he suffered a heart attack in 1929.

Conan Doyle died on 7 July 1930, aged 71. His last book, The Edge of the Unknown, had been published a week earlier. He was buried at Crowborough in East Sussex but his remains were later moved to Minstead Church in the New Forest in Hampshire.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave is under a large tree behind the 13th century church of All Saints. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

Steel True

Blade Straight

Arthur Conan Doyle


Patriot, Physician & Man of Letters

A handy book for anyone wanting to learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes stories is The Pocket Essentials: Sherlock Holmes, by Mark Campbell 

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