Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell

This is the first book by Gladys Mitchell which I have read, it was first published in 1955 and my copy is an old green Penguin from 1957. Mrs Bradley features in this book and she seems to be Mitchell’s lady detective and has featured in lots of her books. She’s another knitting lady detective.

Mrs Bradley and her secretary Laura Menzies have been invited to a party at the country home of Sir Bohun Chantry, a wealthy eccentric who has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes. All of the guests have to attend in fancy dress, got up as characters from Sherlock Holmes stories.

The first chapter has a lot of info dumping in it but it’s done well as at the end of it the reader has been introduced to all of the main characters, before they actually appear in the story.

I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I was going to, I’m really not a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that I live near Edinburgh. Conan Doyle’s beloved Holmes annoys me too much, he would have been insufferable to live with. As the storyline involves a treasure hunt of things which appear in Holmes stories that was all completely lost on me, but I’m sure it would go down well with Holmes afficianados.

Sir Bohun’s relatives are upset that he seems to be intent on marrying Linda Campbell, a governess. His illegitimate Spanish son, Manoel is particularly worried about it. He wants to inherit from his father and be legitimised. When a murder occurs it’s Laura’s fiance Gavin, who is in the C.I.D. who investigates.

I’ve read that this book isn’t one of her best, I think it was the second last book which she wrote, but plot wise it isn’t a disappointment as there were unexpected twists, for me anyway. It does feature a large dog, described as looking like a cross between a Great Dane and an Irish Wolfhound, with maybe a bit of donkey in there too – a big soft lump, which was of course playing the part of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I will be looking out for more books by Gladys Mitchell in the future. I found this one in a charity shop just after Joan had mentioned that she was reading it – on the other side of the pond. I’ve never found a vintage Penguin in my home town before, people must hang on to them. It seemed like an amazing coincidence to me, one of those spooky parallel universe things!

Another thing which I must mention is that red-hair features in this book, the sort of stereo typical disparaging remarks which you get used to if like me you have red hair. They are daft though and do perpetuate silly prejudices which even nowadays end up contributing to kids with red hair getting bullied at school. Looking at the photo of Gladys Mitchell on the back of the book, it looks to me as if the author might have had red hair herself – she was certainly very fair, it’s a black and white photo. Maybe she was just claiming the territory as some people do if they have a perceived ‘handicap’. Does anybody have any info on that subject. Is red-hair a feature of her books?

Although Gladys Mitchell was born in Cowley, Oxford she is of Scottish descent and a Scottish influence is apparent in some of her books, according to the blurb on the back.

6 thoughts on “Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell

  1. Mitchell’s books are almost impossible to find in the US. I understand that although she was popular on a par with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Nagaio Marsh in the UK, very few of her books were even published in the US.

    Last week I stumbled on an Amazon Kindle deal: twelve of Mitchell’s books for $2.99 each. I had read or had three of them, but I downloaded the other nine. Now I can’t find the deal, so I’m sorry for anyone who missed it. Keep checking Amazon.

    By the way, Linda Campbell is the name of my sister who landed in Edinburg this morning! I’d forgotten a character in the book has her name.

    • Joan,
      Her books are really difficult to find here too, but I’ve just discovered that Fife libraries have about a dozen of her titles, so that should keep me going for a while! I’ve found this interesting Gladys Mitchell site.

      Ooh – Campbell! I’ll mention her to D just in case.

  2. Hi,

    I am just reading Watson’s Choice for the first time now. I’m just a couple of chapters from the end so already trying to plan my next book. I have not read a lot of the Gladys Mitchell books (I’ve got 9 of her 66 published Mrs Bradley books) but I am a big fan of mystery novels so I hope to collect more. It’s hard to get access to them as not all are in print.

    Regarding your question, I don’t know if Gladys Mitchell was red haired herself but I think all of the comments on red hair are in reference to the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Red Headed League’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventure_of_the_Red-Headed_League. I have not noticed any excessive references to red hair in the other Mitchell books I’ve read.

    • Zorah,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad that there don’t seem to be lots of references to red hair in the Mitchell books which you have read. I managed to borrow her Death at the Opera from the library but I’m going to keep looking out for her books at second-hand bookshops as my library doesn’t have that many of them. They are difficult to get a hold of and expensive online. I love vintage crime books in general.

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