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.

The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts

This vintage Penguin was first published in 1928 and it’s an Inspector French mystery. It’s a quick read at just 206 pages long and I think that’s why I started reading it, I only bought it a couple of days ago from that madly exasperating Voltaire and Rousseau bookshop in Glasgow. If you want to see what that bookshop looks like, have a keek at a previous post here.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t read The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts first, I should have because it was first published in 1920 and on page 23 of The Sea Mystery the author explains the plot and the culprit of his previous book – honestly have you ever heard the like!! Now I’ll have to wait until I’ve forgotten it all before I read The Cask.

Anyway, this one begins with two anglers in a boat off the south coast of Wales ‘catching’ a wooden packing case. It contains a nasty surprise and the upshot is that Inspector French of New Scotland Yard is called in to investigate a murder.

Considering there seems to be virtually nothing in the way of clues it’s amazing how he gets to the bottom of it all, but he does and in the end I did enjoy it although I had a fair idea of what had happened before I got to the end.

For me, this one wasn’t quite as good as some of his other books but it was just what I was needing after reading so many Trollope books recently – a nice wee change.

I like Inspector French as a detective, he manages to manipulate all the various characters to get the best results for the investigation but he’s only human so things don’t always happen the way he would like them to.