Monday, 16 December 2013

Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell

published 1955


[Mrs Bradley and Laura Menzies are involved in a country house party featuring a Sherlock Holmes fancydress party]


Laura… invited Mrs Dance into her room and displayed the outfit of Mrs Grant Munro. ‘Not really my kettle of fish,’ Laura mournfully observed. ‘Wish now I hadn’t taken it on. I’ve been re-reading the script, and it seems to me that something in the line of Miss Mary Sutherland would suit me ever so much better. I’m big enough, goodness knows, and I’d adore to wear a boa and a picture hat, and look good-hearted and common…’

‘Mrs Grant Munro?’ said the enraptured Mrs Dance, eyeing Laura’s preparations. ‘Married to an African, and a black baby thrown in for good measure? My dear, this is where we change parts! It may take us all night and all to-morrow morning to make over the clothes, but who cares? And dear Bobo will be frantic at having his arrangements upset, and I do love him when he’s frantic!’

‘Here, I’m not a bit of good in the dressmaking line,’ said Laura hastily, alarmed by the suggestion that needlework would be involved in the changeover.

‘No need. I have a certain genius that way...'

So, to Sir Bohun’s inarticulate fury, Mrs Dance, mischievous and pretty, appeared as the adventurous, experimental Mrs Grant Munro, and Laura scored a major success as the inhibited, faithful, cruelly misled bride-left-at-the-altar, Miss Mary Sutherland, boa, picture-hat, and all. This shock to the host came at a bad time. No sooner had Mrs Dance first broken the news to Sir Bohun that she and Laura had changed costumes than she added that she refused to dine wearing her bustle...




observations: I was reminded of this book when doing a blog entry on Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, following on from one on women in trousers. Clothes in Books does love a fancy dress party, (see this recent entry for links to earlier discussions) and this is an exceptionally good one, no complaints this time that not enough is made of the party. There is deep fog outside, locked rooms with sinister explanations, and a giant dog with luminous markings jumping in through the French windows.


Plus a lot about the damn bustle.
‘Nobody asked her to wear a bustle,’ snapped Sir Bohun. ‘No bustle is mentioned in the text, so far as I am aware, as being part of any lady’s costume. Nobody but Brenda Dance would have thought of wearing such a tasteless and frivolous appendage.’

I always enjoy reading the Mrs Bradley books – see earlier entries here and here – but they are very strange and most unlike other crime books of the era. The plots don’t really make sense, there are thousands of loose ends, all kinds of strands are raised and followed for a bit and then ditched. So they’re not for everyone. But who could not want to know what happens after this sentence:
She had become aware of a stealthy footstep on the stair and had seen a shadow appear where the thin winter light picked out the banisters.
And what about this piece of important detection:
Nothing but a love affair – preferably a clandestine one – should keep a girl of her age from toboggans and skis, I feel.
Mrs Bradley is definitely one of the great heroines of detective fiction.

The pictures are from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr.  

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh I love it - a Sherlock Holmes- themed fancy dress party. Now that's inspired considering that this is mystery novel. And you're right; the Mrs. Bradley books are unusual detective fiction. They may not be for everyone but they do include some deliciously odd characters and some strange situations. And then there's Mrs. Bradley herself - priceless!

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    1. Thanks Margot - I really enjoyed doing this one - reading the book, deciding which bit to use, finding the pictures - pleasure from start to finish. Of course I always enjoy doing the entries, and usually like the books, but this one was a particular delight...

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  2. Moira; Your post reminded me of The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King in which her sleuth, San Francisco detective Kate Martinelli, in the investigation of a murdered Sherlockian finds his house is an actual 19th Century re-creation of the home of Holmes. In the house he hosted dinners for fellow Sherlockians.

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    1. I'd forgotten that one, Bill, good reminder. According to my records I read it in 2009 and found it entertaining. A good setup I think. Here in the UK we're all looking forward to the return of TV's modern Sherlock Holmes on New Year's Day....

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  3. I have purchased several books by vintage mystery authors in the last year (all still unread), but I have not yet gotten one by Gladys Mitchell. I will have to remedy that later in 2014. I hope she is not too silly for me, but I definitely want to give her a try.

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    1. She has a very unusual style, and it took me a while to get into her, but now I just abandon all my expectations of logic, and enjoy the style. There are loads of them, I have only skimmed the surface.

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    1. Not even to be considered? Well perhaps not, although I think you might like them more than you'd expect.

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  5. Have you seen the TV adaptations of the Mrs Bradley storied? Very disappointing. The fact that Diana Rigg was cast as Mrs Bradley rather spoiled it, although she does wear some very glamorous outfits.

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    1. Yes, that's exactly what I thought. I mentioned this on the blog a while back, and said 'the stories bore little resemblance to the originals, and Ms Rigg was neither ugly enough nor badly-dressed enough to be Mrs Bradley. The designers obviously seized the opportunity to show off fabulous and no-doubt authentically-reproduced 1920s outfits, but the whole point of Mrs B was her ‘saurian’ appearance and her dreadful taste in clothes. http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/laurels-are-poison.html

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