Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
published 1934 chapter 5
Alceste Boyle saw a woman in the middle sixties, with sharp black eyes like those of a witch, an aristocratic nose, a thin mouth which pursed itself into a queer little birdlike beak as its owner summed her up, and, lying idle for the moment, for Mrs. Bradley had returned his scribbling-tablet to the Headmaster some two minutes before the entrance of Alceste Boyle, a pair of yellow, claw-like hands, the fingers of which were heavily loaded with rings. Alceste’s non-committal cardigan, jumper and dark skirt—a costume which was almost the uniform of the women members of the staff—contrasted oddly with Mrs. Bradley’s outrageous colour scheme of magenta, orange and blue. Notwithstanding all physical and sartorial evidence to the contrary, however, Alceste decided that the queer little old woman was attractive. “You wanted me, Mr. Cliffordson?” she said. “Yes. Take a seat, Mrs. Boyle. Look here.” He handed her the list of names. “All those people were behind the scenes on the night of Miss Ferris’s death. Is the list complete, or can you add to it?”
observations: Death at the Opera is somewhat of a misnomer: the death is at a girls’ school, and the ‘opera’ is a performance of Gilbert&Sullivan’s The Mikado – not what true snobs think of as proper opera. But, as we’ve said before, murder stories at educational establishments get a free ride here, we love them, and Gladys Mitchell – who had a long career as a teacher – did some very good ones.
The remarkable Gladys Mitchell tribute site, The Stone House, picks out this as one of her very best books, and that might be a step too far, but it is a very typical specimen – if you like Gladys Mitchell, you’ll like this one. They all have bizarre plots, unlikely motivations, extremely unlikely solutions, weird and wild diversions, and some nice writing - like the description 'non-committal' above.
Links up with: Mrs Bradley’s strange clothes have come under Clothes-in-Books scrutiny before – with a very similar colour scheme to that mentioned above. All kinds of schools have featured before – search on school in the box above. And for more crime fiction click on the tab above.
The picture is a vintage knitting pattern from this excellent site, one that's sure to feature again soon.