A special welcome to Elle, a new group reader who joins us here. You can also visit the great websites of contributors José (A Crime Is Afoot) and Tracy K. (Bitter Tea and Mystery) by clicking on the links.
MRS BRADLEY ON THE MOVE
Chris – A disappointment to me is that the admirable Cockney philosopher and chauffer George is so invisible after rescuing Miss Higgs in the opening chapter. Mrs Bradley needs to take several journeys between the two locations, separated by approximately 200 miles, but the narrative skips over these, cutting George almost entirely out of the story, at least to this point.
Elle – Beatrice is the address for Dr. Lestrange, and then she's referred to as Adela, thanks to [author] Helen Simpson [who provided the additional name for Mrs Bradley when she featured Mitchell’s detective in her chapter of the round-robin story Ask a Policeman (1933) - JH]. I remember this being a bone of contention for Lady Diana's (Rigg) portrayal: the use of the moniker Adela.
Theda – Mrs. Bradley doggedly gathers more information, lays out her ‘points’, and confirms some things that she already ‘knew’. Her psychiatry experience provides much insight into what is going on, but she also seems somewhat arrogant in that she ‘knows’ these things, not just ‘believes’ or ‘suspects’. But perhaps she does.
José – Mrs Bradley learns that Tom Donagh is still in Mede. Apparently, Sir Adrian wanted him to stay there since he cannot cope with the twins.
Tracy K. – She returns to the Mede area and meets up again with Tom Donagh, my favorite character in this book next to Mrs Bradley and George, the chauffeur. Tom is delighted to realize that she is the well-known Mrs Lestrange Bradley, and invites her to give a talk before his Detection Fan Club at the school where he teaches. Quickly Tom and Mrs Bradley become the best of friends. She may be described as "reptilian," and "leering hideously" and "grinning like an alligator," but she is very good at making friends.
Joyka – I find Mrs Bradley’s attitude towards the twins interesting. This is the only GM book I can recall that deals with twins. She remarks to Tom, Derek’s tutor, “Your half of this nutshell appears to be sensitive to superstitious ideas,” when Derek faints upon seeing Francis. It seems a bit insensitive.
Tracy K. – Later, Mrs Bradley returns to her riverside bungalow and decides to hire a local housekeeper, who she hopes will be a good source of local gossip. Her school friend Mabel, who lives in Mede, helps her decide on a woman who could be very useful, and eventually she gets the information that will move her investigations further on. That is a very entertaining chapter.
Chris – The title of Chapter 11, ‘Dorcas’, alludes to an early female saint of the Christian church, noted for her charitable work among the poor. Mrs Bradley here devotes her time to the poor, although from investigative rather than charitable motives, by hiring and interviewing Mrs Sludger and her daughter ‘Efful’ (Ethel).
Theda – The pace at which the information unfolds and inferences or conclusions are made keeps the plot moving along and keeps me guessing.
PRACTICING (AND PERFECTING) DECEIT
Tracy K. – By the end of this section, Mrs. Bradley has successfully confirmed that the twin boys were in the habit of changing places. How long that has been going on, she does not know. Inspector Gavin of Scotland Yard, who Mrs. Bradley knows well, has been sent to investigate the murder in Mede.
Joyka – The twins are said to be so similar that they can pass for each other. The descriptions so far, as noted last week, are totally dissimilar. Derek’s femininity is derided by all, yet no one says the same of Francis. Mrs. B. alone, it seems, has rumbled their secret, that they are switching places and that they are more similar than anyone knows.
Chris – A general problem with the use of twins in a mystery story is that we know in advance what will happen with them. Twins in real life are just people, but in storytelling and especially drama they are inevitably fated to be used in contrived episodes of mistaken identity or deliberate impersonation. Another thing we already know if we encounter twins in a story is that they are never perfectly identical: to the expert – and usually parental – eye, there is one small trait that allows them to be told apart. In this case, one has a healthier appetite for food.
Theda – The author’s device of Derek-Francis and Francis-Derek helps to keep the pair straight in my mind. It’s also clear now why their attributes are so distinct and even exaggerated – this allows them to perpetuate the ruse and obscure the fact that each of them plays both roles. I tend to believe, however, that the the deaf and dumb attributes of Francis were actually real to begin with. This elaborate scheme must have come later; it seems unlikely to have started at age 6 or 7 (and why is there so much confusion about the age?).
Joyka – When I read the comments last week about the dual locations, I realized how clever Gladys Mitchell was to put each twin in a different locale that actually mimics their status with their grandfather.
AN INFAMOUS DUO
José – One might assume that Sir Adrian could be at the bottom of all the trouble, but it is highly unlikely that he would have used his beloved Derek as an accessory to Witt's murder. On the one hand, Sir Adrian himself could not have killed Witt as he had an airtight alibi. Besides, it is futile to speculate on the identity of the killer until more is known of Witt's blackmailing activities… On the other hand, Derek Caux seems to be the prototype of a panic killer.
Theda – I like Scotland Yard’s Inspector Gavin’s wondering if they are the UK version of Leopold and Loeb. And if so, which of them is really the leader?
Chris – As often in the Mrs Bradley mysteries, Gladys Mitchell mentions a famous true-crime case of the recent past, here beginning to invite comparisons with it. The Leopold & Loeb case of 1924, mentioned by Gavin in Chapter 12, was one in which two wealthy Chicago students, widely believed to have been a gay couple, decided to pull off a ‘perfect’ motiveless crime by capturing and murdering a teenage boy. It became the basis for Patrick Hamilton’s drama Rope (1929) and for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 screen adaptation under the same title. In The Echoing Strangers, we have several mutterings about the perceived ‘girlishness’ of the twins, along with suggestions that they are ‘young decadents’ in ways comparable with Leopold & Loeb.
Joyka – Mrs Bradley states there is not much doubt that both boys were “to some degree abnormal and degenerate…possibly sufficiently lacking in conscience to have been accessories to murder…” She speculates their disparate upbringings might make them capable of criminal activities.
Elle – Does Sir Adrian fear his grandsons? This is doubled down by the name of Chapter 12, “Castor and Pollux”.
LOVE OF NATURE AND LITERATURE
Tracy K. – One of my favorite aspects of Mitchell's writing is her lovely descriptions of nature and the countryside, which show up in this book also. For example, when she and Tom ride up the river in a launch, there is this wonderful passage:
"Between intervals of falling in love with wet woods more nostalgic than those of Kipling, and of listening entranced, in the intervals when they shut off the launch’s engine, to the green and soil-laden waters of the river washing amorously up to the roots of the foremost trees, they discussed the two murders until both were bored with these, and the slight tide up from Thurne Mouth, slapping into the reeds and running up into and washing back from the black-avised and super-natural banks, seemed the only thing worthy of philosophy."
Elle – Beatrice's allusions to Byron, Lord Tennyson's poem "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" as well as Danae is very interesting.
Joyka – GM paints such a detailed picture of the countryside in all of her books. It is one of her techniques I like the best, but I often read that others feel she puts in too much detail.
AND FINALLY, THE VICTIMS
Theda – There still isn’t any connection between the two murders, but it is starting to look like the Witt murder involved both twins – if not in the commission, perhaps in the planning or coverup. Witt was a blackmailer, that much seems certain, although I don’t recall any witness actually using that word; instead, “people went to his house and came away crying”. But it doesn’t seem likely that the twins’ role-playing would be blackmailable – it would more likely be related to the “problem with a village girl” that keeps being alluded to.
José – When Francis was fifteen, Miss Higgs feared that the boy was growing up and becoming too much for her. Mrs Bradley thinks she may have been referring to Francis’s interactions with the village girls, and this knowledge provides a clue to set up a successful scheme. Thanks to her plan, Mrs Bradley finds out all that there is to know about the village and gets a local lass to talk frankly about Francis.
Chris – the two murders have been ‘twinned’ by the discovery that each murder victim – Campbell in Wetwode and Witt in Mede – had been suspected of engaging in blackmail. It remains to be discovered who was being blackmailed by them, and so who may have had motives for the crimes.
The investigation continues next week as we read Chapters 13 to 17 of The Echoing Strangers. Thanks for reading and joining the discussion!