The Devil at Saxon Wall by Gladys Mitchell

Madness and witchcraft in a village that seems to be living in the Middle Ages

The Devil at Saxon Wall is the sixth Mrs Bradley mystery
The Devil at Saxon Wall is
the sixth Mrs Bradley mystery
Probably the most bizarre Mrs Bradley mystery yet, The Devil at Saxon Wall, the sixth novel about the eccentric psychoanalyst and amateur detective, published in 1935, is the first of a number of Gladys Mitchell’s books to feature the theme of witchcraft.

The story was inspired after Gladys heard a lecture on witchcraft by her friend, the detective fiction writer Helen Simpson, and she dedicated this book to her.

Mrs Bradley has advised her best-selling novelist friend, Hannibal Jones, who has had a breakdown and is suffering from writer’s block, to retreat to a quiet, rustic village to find rest and inspiration for his work. 

Although the village of Saxon Wall might seem the perfect rural escape to begin with, Jones soon finds himself intrigued by the odd characters among the villagers and their pagan beliefs.

He also finds himself compelled to try to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Neot House, a place where a young couple died soon after the birth of their first child.

It is a hot summer and the villagers are desperate for rain because they are short of water. They decide the local vicar is to blame for the lack of water and Jones has to step in to defend him when their anger drives them to march on the vicarage armed with weapons.

Gladys Mitchell tells the story with the skill that was her hallmark
Gladys Mitchell tells the story with
the skill that was her hallmark
Jones makes some enquiries to try to sort out what happened to two babies who he thinks may have been swapped at birth, but when a man from the village is found bludgeoned to death, he decides he must call in Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley to help him.

The strangely dressed old lady with her hideous cackle is more than a match for the angry villagers and she proceeds to root out the devil at Saxon Wall using her own unique and unorthodox methods.

At the end of the novel, Mrs Bradley expresses the opinion that the inhabitants of Saxon Wall are incapable of making straightforward statements. She thinks that this peculiarity dates back to the days of the Norman conquest when the Saxons of those parts, too cunning to tell direct lies to their overlords, resorted to maddening half statements and obscure pronouncements, which made them difficult to understand.

Although the characters and situations are bizarre, the novel presents an intriguing mystery which Mrs Bradley skilfully unravels and the story is well told by Gladys, who helpfully provides ‘End Papers’ to clarify issues for the reader.

I found The Devil at Saxon Wall entertaining and enjoyable and well worth reading.  

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