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Speedy Death

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 11 months ago

Mitchell, Gladys - Speedy Death (1929)



Review by Nick Fuller


With the appearance of Speedy Death in 1929, the face of crime fiction was changed forever. Over the fifty-five years between its publication and that of The Crozier Pharaohs in 1984, readers were treated to sixty-six bizarre and funny novels, in which insane murderers committed their crimes against a background of water nymphs, moving stones, ghosts, witchcraft, devils, Greek gods, obscure customs, sexually repressed spinsters, criminal lunatics, and dismembered corpses. To cope with these, a strong detective is needed — and Mitchell introduces the most memorable detective of all time in this book: Mrs. Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, a sinister pterodactyl-like psycho-analyst with the smile of a Cheshire Cat, and the morals of a shark—cynical, contemptuous, witty, shrieking, cackling, unorthodox, unconventional, genius, in what is undoubtedly the best debut a detective ever achieved—although it seems Mitchell intended the naturalist Carstairs to be her detective (or a very intelligent Watson? — although Laura Menzies is highly intelligent).


As for the story itself, it is a comedy-of-manners with Victorian melodrama thrown in (as one of the characters comments, some of the events "sounded more like the meaty bit out of a shilling shocker to me"). The ingredients include transvestism ('Rather bad luck to find out that the chap you are engaged to is a woman, what?') and lesbianism, pathological jealousy, revenant corpses, justified murder (or, as Mrs. Bradley herself puts it, 'a logical elimination of unnecessary, and, in fact, dangerous matter...'), midnight attacks and hasty marriages, and fleeting references to birth-control, marking this as a very progressive novel. The detection is in-depth, using interesting material and psychological clues — the murderer's obsession with clocks is particularly fascinating. Characterisation and dialogue are both excellent — wonderful Mrs. Bradley, the prudish murderess Eleanor Bing, but the high-light of the novel is undoubtedly the climactic trial — it is a pleasure to see Mrs. Bradley's enjoyment at being arrested — but, then, the entire novel is a pleasure.

Comments (1)

Joan Cook said

at 5:07 am on Oct 25, 2009

This is one of the most original murder mysteries I have read. At a house party, one of the guests is found drowned in the bath. Was it accident, suicide, or murder? Halfway through, we're pretty sure it's murder, and we're pretty sure we know the murderer and the motive, means, and opportunity. But the dead archaeologist is no longer the point of the story.
--Joan Cook

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