The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop

Second Mrs Bradley mystery is full of the unexpected

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop is published by Vintage
The Mystery of a Butcher's
is published by Vintage
Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley seems even more eccentric in the second novel by Gladys Mitchell to feature the psycho-analyst detective heroine, with her gaudy clothes, birdlike appearance and sinister cackle.

Mrs Bradley has arrived in the village of Wandles Parva as the tenant of the Stone House at a time when the local squire has just gone missing and a dismembered human body has turned up at a nearby butcher’s shop, the joints left neatly hanging on meat hooks.

She quickly becomes involved in the investigation, irritating the police, employing the young people in the village to help her with detecting, and getting so close to the truth at one point that she narrowly avoids being shot in the head with an arrow fired by a figure clad in full Robin Hood costume.

While the young people think she is entertaining and a good sport, the adults in the village find her unsettling, with her yellow skin, claw-like hands and terrifying grin.

Mrs Bradley is presented with some bizarre clues, such as a human skull discovered by the local Bishop, which then goes missing before turning up as an exhibit in the local museum. There is also a freshly dug grave containing only a suitcase holding a stuffed trout with a note saying: ’A present from Grimsby.’

The police fix on Jim Redsey, a young man who will inherit his missing cousin’s estate, as their main suspect, but Mrs Bradley thinks the psychology is all wrong and that Jim is not creative enough to think of dismembering a body in a butcher’s shop or playing hide-the-thimble with a skull.

Diana Rigg played the eccentric detective in a BBC TV series
Diana Rigg played the eccentric
detective in a BBC TV series
The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop is both entertaining and complex with a very tangled plot that Gladys Mitchell and Mrs Bradley both try to help the reader to solve. There are hand-drawn maps and the reader is treated to extracts from Mrs Bradley’s notebook as well as a timetable of events she has drawn up.

While the police remain baffled, Mrs Bradley assembles the interested parties and builds up a case against each suspect in turn and then subsequently tears it down, giving the reader all the facts to help them solve the mystery.

Gladys Mitchell, however, keeps the reader guessing right to the very last paragraph on the very last page.

The author had a long career as a teacher alongside her writing. She also studied the works of Sigmund Freud and developed an interest in witchcraft. She wrote 66 crime novels and was an early member of the Detection Club with other Golden Age detective novelists, but her writing style, characters and plots make her novels unlike anything produced by her contemporaries.

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop was first published in Great Britain in 1930 by Gollanz and was republished in 2010 and 2017 by Vintage Books.

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