Death Comes at Christmas by Gladys Mitchell

A murky tale of murder among the Morris men and pig farmers

The Vintage edition of  Death Comes at Christmas
The Vintage edition of 
Death Comes at Christmas
We get a glimpse of Mrs Bradley’s gentler side when she goes to spend Christmas with her nephew, Carey, who is a pig farmer, in this sixth novel about the eccentric psychoanalyst and sleuth.

Taking with her a boar’s head as a present for her host, she settles down to enjoy the festive season in Oxfordshire in the company of Carey, who seems genuinely fond of his distinguished aunt, her grand-nephew, Denis, and Carey’s friend, Hugh.

Cackling, and wearing some of her luridly-coloured cardigans, Mrs Bradley dines on, not surprisingly, lots of pork, and she entertains her fellow guests with anecdotes about murderers and unusual psychological cases she has encountered.

But then one of Carey’s neighbours, a local solicitor, is found dead near the river on Christmas Day and although he is thought to have suffered a heart attack, Mrs Bradley is not convinced that his death was the result of natural causes.

Later, a neighbouring pig farmer is also found dead, seemingly having been killed by one of his owns boars. Suspecting murder again, Mrs Bradley fearlessly tries to uncover the truth about the death, despite facing physical threats herself.

Although the first death occurs at Christmas, it takes the lady detective until Easter to unravel the complex case, but I would still recommend this novel as a good read for the festive season.

Death Comes at Christmas is enlivened by descriptions of some of the local characters. Carey’s housekeeper, Mrs Ditch, who he summons to his presence by yodeling, her Morris Dancing husband and son, and her daughter, Linda, who is frequently criticised by local people for ‘trollopsen’ about the area, all add to the bizarre humour.

Mrs Bradley and Denis discover that Carey’s house has secret passages and a ghost, and the reader gets the chance to learn a lot about Morris dancing, pig farming and heraldry during the novel, which was originally published under the title Dead Men’s Morris in 1936.

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

A teacher by profession, Gladys wrote at least one novel a year throughout her career and over the years she built a large and loyal following for her eccentric, but brilliant, detective, Mrs Bradley.

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

She was interested in architecture, ancient buildings, folklore and British customs, subjects that were often explored in her novels and short stories. She also studied the works of Sigmund Freud and developed an interest in witchcraft.

In 1961, Gladys retired from teaching but she continued to write detective novels and received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976. The last Mrs Bradley mystery was published in 1984, the year after her death.

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Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham

Mystery novel tells readers more about Albert Campion

The Vintage edition of  Flowers for the Judge
The Vintage edition of 
Flowers for the Judge
Campion is pushed to his limits when he tries to solve the puzzling disappearance of a director of a London publishing house, in Flowers for the Judge, the seventh novel by Margery Allingham to feature her adventurous series detective.

The mysterious Campion is called in to help when an old friend, Paul Brande, a nephew of the founder of the Barnabus publishing company, is reported as missing by his wife, Gina. Paul has been absent from home for three days, but as he and his wife led almost separate lives, no one has found it at all remarkable up till then.

Campion is introduced to the other members of the family involved in the publishing firm at a Sunday afternoon tea party at Gina’s flat. During the tea party, another cousin, Mike, goes to the office to fetch a file for the firm’s managing director from the strong room.

The next day, Paul Brande’s body is discovered lying in full view in the strong room by staff at the Barnabus publishing company. The police decide Mike must have seen the body when he went there on the Sunday afternoon but chose to say nothing about it. They also discover from other people that he was secretly in love with Gina, who is an attractive young American woman. They arrest him and accuse him of murdering Paul.

A large part of the book shows the police establishing a case against Mike and putting him on trial for murder, almost making it a legal mystery.

In this 1936 novel, Margery describes the nosegay traditionally carried into court by the judge. It is made up of fresh, scented flowers for the judge to sniff to mitigate the unpleasant smells and unhygienic air of the courtroom. It is the nosegay that gives the book its title.

Peter Davison as the bespectacled Campion in the BBC adaptation of Flowers for the Judge
Peter Davison as the bespectacled Campion
in the BBC adaptation of Flowers for the Judge 
Campion is made aware of the disappearance of a previous director of the firm, 20 years before, who seemed to vanish into thin air while walking along a street in London.

He is also told about the manuscript of a previously unpublished play written by Restoration dramatist William Congreve, which is owned by the firm. This was kept in the safe in the strong room and was about to be put on display at an event by Paul Brande.

As the trial gets under way, Campion, and his manservant, reformed criminal Magersfontein Lugg, have to work day and night to solve the murder before Mike is sentenced and hanged. At one point, Campion’s own life is threatened and he finds he must draw on all his resources and Lugg’s underworld contacts to help him solve the case.

Many readers have said they liked seeing the development of Albert Campion’s character by Margery Allingham during this story, who the reader has previously been told little about by the author. I found it to be a pacy whodunit that I enjoyed reading.

Flowers for the Judge was adapted for the BBC with Peter Davison as Campion and Brian Glover as Lugg and it was shown on television in two, hour-long episodes in 1990. 

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