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The Crozier Pharaohs

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago

Mitchell, Gladys - The Crozier Pharaohs (1984)



Review by Nick Fuller


Her final published novel, a posthumous offering — and my fiftieth book. It is a great pity, however, that what should have been a summing up of her career in the same way that, at greatly differing spheres of quality, Agatha Christie’s Curtain (1975) and Edmund Crispin’s The Glimpses of the Moon (1977) were, is nothing more than an enjoyable, if mediocre, tale.


The story takes place in the coastal village of Abbots Crozier, whose “hotel windows commanded wide views of the sea and the moors and there were pleasant walks to be had in the upland air and along the banks of the little river which, when it reached the top of the cliffs, foamed, churned, and rushed downhill to meet the sea” — ample scope for Gladys Mitchell to wax lyrical about the picturesquely rugged scenery, as she sets Dame Beatrice Bradley and her assistant Laura Gavin sleuthing. Unfortunately, Dame Beatrice and Laura do not sleuth. Instead, they remain firmly fixed on the periphery of the story until three-fifths of the story has gone by, making witty remarks at each other.


Their absence from the scene is taken up by long descriptions of the eccentric household of the Rant sisters, Bryony and Morpeth (actually, the only evidence the book presents as to their eccentricity is the number of people saying how eccentric they must be because they breed dogs, and their bizarre names), close siblings in the tradition of The Rising of the Moon and The Echoing Strangers, whose father — a possible murderer — killed himself, and the murders with which they come into contact. The first victim, a kidnapper of dogs (for what reason is never made clear), is found drowned in the river, apparently in his terrified haste to escape from a dog—the only connection dogs have with the case. A verdict of accident is passed, although Dame Beatrice and Laura, safely distanced from the scene of the crime, “suspect that there has been dirty work at the crossroads or, in this case, at the confluence of the waters”. Their suspicions become certainty when a lunatic (or impostor?) is found with his throat cut in a valley with “fascinating rock formations and … a brooding air of mystery and evil”.


It is not until this second murder has been committed that Dame Beatrice begins to stir her stumps, packing a revolver or “what the American gangsters used to refer to as the old equaliser”, as she enquires into hats, rabbits, dogs, poachers, lunatics, razors and prescriptions in an effort to clear the kennel-maid Susan of suspicion, and work out which of the three or four suspects committed the crime. As little detection tends to mean few clues, the solution, although perhaps less arbitrary than some other examples of late Mitchell (e.g. Winking at the Brim, 1974), relies on a lot of new information, and so is unfair.


Although the reader may believe that my attitude to this book is wholly negative, it is moderately entertaining, and is just unfortunately mediocre.

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