Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Book 58 of 2013: The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop by Gladys Mitchell

A while ago I bought Mr Click a collection of Gladys Mitchell crime books from The Book People. They had been a bit of a spur of the moment purchase, possibly chosen to make up an order for free delivery, and had sat on the bookcase for a while because he had other books to read. I don’t like to read other people’s books until after they’ve read them so I didn’t like to go ahead and read it before he had. Then we had to work out which order they were to be read in because it appears that Ms Mitchell wrote quite a few books in this series and they were just seven from the set and had been packaging in no particular order.

The Mystery of the Butcher’s Shop was identified to be the first of this little collection. This is the story of a small village in which one of the inhabitants of the big house, Rupert Sethleigh, is found inexplicably but brutally murdered with his body hung up in the butcher’s shop. As the various village inhabitants stories come out it appears that half of them were in the woods by the house for some reason or another on the night he went missing and was killed; and half of them seem to have a motive for killing him as well. Luckily Mrs Bradley is on hand to sort out the conflicting stories, wade through the evidence and figure out exactly who did it and why.

This was a different sort of crime book from that ones I’m used to reading, something I suspect is a product of its age; it was originally published in 1930. The main character is an older woman, a widow, named Mrs Bradley and she relies on psychology to get to the bottom of the crime. In a way she’s not unlike Sherlock Holmes, definitely closed to Conan Doyle than Kathy Reichs.

I did struggle with this one a bit partly because of the attitudes of everyone towards the dead guy. It’s made fairly clear that Rupert Sethleigh isn’t a very nice person, but no one seems to care that he’s brutally murdered and disposed of in a thoroughly unpleasant manner. I think that bothered me a bit because even if he’s not nice and he’s blackmailing people, surely there’s a better way of dealing with him than the way that they did!

The book had quite a large cast of characters, some of whom seemed to blend into one another, so it was quite tricky to keep everyone straight. I think this is another reason why it took me so long to get through it. I didn’t really like any of the characters particularly, they all had a tendency to behave in some pretty strange ways. Like a teenage boy who randomly decides to bury a stuffed fish in a suitcase where they think that Sethleigh was murdered. It was just bizarre!

That said, it was a satisfying read, especially after some of the duller books I’d found myself reading before it so I did enjoy it in a way. It felt like an early book in a series (I think it was the second of the Mrs Bradley books published) so I guess Mitchell was still finding her feet with it, so I kind of found myself wondering what was going to come next. At least we’ve got another six of her books on the bookcase.

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