The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell

Hayley at Desperate Reader reviewed Gladys Mitchell’s The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop last week & I was reminded that I had borrowed this very book from work & it was sitting on the tbr pile with a couple of other Gladys Mitchells. Hayley quotes a lovely passage about equal pay for women & as the book was published in 1930, I was intrigued enough to pick it up & start reading.

Gladys Mitchell’s detective is psychologist Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley. Of indeterminate age, yellow-skinned, cackling, reptilian Mrs Bradley always seems to have been old. As Mitchell wrote from the late 20s to the mid 70s, Mrs Bradley, like Hercule Poirot, is preserved in aspic at the same age while the world changes around her. I’ve read a few of this series since Vintage began reprinting them with these lovely nostalgic covers. At first, I found Mrs Bradley’s clawing & cackling irritating, but I’ve decided that I can put up with it for the pleasure of becoming immersed in a labyrinthine plot that I have no hope of ever sorting out.

In The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop, Rupert Sethleigh has disappeared. Sethleigh owns the Manor House in the village of Wandles Parva. He shares his home with various relations, including a cousin, Jim Redsey, an aunt, Mrs Bryce Harringay, & her teenage son, Aubrey. Other villagers include the absent-minded Vicar, Stephen Broome; his daughter, Felicity; Dr Barnes & his daughter, Margery & an arty trio, Cleaver Wright, Savile & Lulu Hirst. On the day before Sethleigh goes missing, he had summoned his lawyer to the Manor House, intending to change his will. When he disappears & a dismembered, headless body is discovered in the butcher’s shop of a nearby town, the police, & Mrs Bradley, who has recently moved in to the village, begin investigating.

Sethleigh was an unpleasant man, a money lender who didn’t scruple to blackmail anyone he could get a hold on. There are several people with a motive to kill him. His cousin, Jim Redsey, had asked for a loan to start a new life in Mexico but Rupert turned him down. Jim is the heir to Sethleigh’s estate but did he know that Sethleigh was about to change his will? The new heir would be young Aubrey Harringay. If his mother thought the will had already been changed, would she murder to set her son up for life? Then, there are the blackmail victims & the disgruntled husbands & fathers of the women Sethleigh seduced. On the night before he disappeared, Rupert & Jim were seen going into the nearby Manor Woods. Rupert never reappeared. As nearly everyone in the village seems to have passed through the woods on this night, there are motives, clues & alibis everywhere.  

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop is a fast-paced mystery with a lot of humour, mostly thanks to Mrs Bradley’s witty conversation & such characters as Mrs Bryce Harringay, who has a habit of talking in Capital Letters. After a complicated episode involving a suitcase & the theft of a stuffed fish, Mrs Harringay upbraids her nephew, Jim,

‘I do not effect to be a judge of fish,’ said his aunt, ‘neither am I an authority on their names and habits. I merely remark that there were burglars in this house last night. I heard them. As proof I submit that the trout is gone. I realize that I am but a poor subnormal specimen of humanity, belonging to the weaker sex at that; one who may be contradicted, insulted and corrected at random by any young man who happens to be a very poor twelve at golf and an average – a very average – performer on the piano. Nevertheless, I have eyes and ears equal to any in this country, and I insist that this house was visited by burglars last night!’

Everything you could want in a Golden Age mystery is here from a map of the scene of the crime to extracts from Mrs Bradley’s notebooks. The police aren’t quite as flat footed & gormless as they often are in these books either. The mystery is satisfyingly complicated & I think I suspected almost everyone at some point, even the Vicar! Recommended to any fan of the Golden Age of detective fiction. As the quote from the Independent on the front of this edition says, “Superbly odd”.

10 thoughts on “The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell

  1. A wonderful review. This sounds like something I might definitely want to read. I will have to add this author and her Mrs. Bradley books to my ever-growing TBR list. I really did think I was widely read in mysteries, but I am finding out that I've missed quite a few. I hate feeling left out. Ha!

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  2. This is a writer about whom I know nothing. I just have to hope now that given when it was published my library has something by her. They have a nasty habit of weeding everything you really want to read. Otherwise I'm going to try the secondhand sites, because this is right up my street.

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  3. Hayley, I've liked every GM I've read more than the last so I hope to read more soon. Yvette & Annie, I hope you can give Gladys a try. As Vintage are reprinting her, your libraries may be able to buy a few if they've weeded all the older copies. I think she'd been OP for quite a while before Vintage took her up.

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  4. Thank you for the great review. I only learned of this author after watching 'The Mrs Bradley Mysteries', a PBS/BBC(?) tv series with the wonderful Diana Rigg. I quite enjoyed it (although some murders were a bit hair-raising and strange) but I believe that fans of GM don't really like it as it strays quite a bit from the source.
    I'm expecting something quite different when I read the only book of hers that I have, 'When Last I Died' and your review has made me want to read it soon 🙂

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  5. Cristina, the TV series was nothing like the books. Diana Rigg was gorgeous & bears no resemblance to Mrs/Dame Beatrice! I don't know why they option books for TV & then ignore them completely! I've stopped watching the latest Miss Marples for the same reason. I've read WLID & I enjoyed it very much. I hope you do too.

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  6. I'm not doing well at all with mysteries this year. I've read one and can't seem to finish any others. I'm reading a Brother Cadfael story, but although it is good I am in the mood for a classic Golden Age story. I should really finish one of the others I started first, though!

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  7. Would you believe that all our library copies are reference only! What am I supposed to do, pack up a flask of tea and a picnic basket of cream scones and go and spend the afternoon curled up among the stacks?

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  8. Dani, maybe the Golden Age will break your mystery drought? Annie, you remind me of Helene Hanff. Didn't she have to read Walton's Lives in a NY library because it wasn't for loan? Thanks Martin. I think I got off to a bad start with The Saltmarsh Murders. I've liked every subsequent Gladys more than the one before so I'm glad I persisted.

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