Hangman’s Curfew by Gladys Mitchell

Hangmans CurfewGillian is suffering from a broken heart – aah! – so what better than a visit to her aunt, Mrs Bradley, who promptly tells her to go away. Well, to go on a holiday to Northumberland, where she meets a young man – aah! – who tells her a tale of someone trying to poison his uncle in Lincolnshire. If only, he continues, he knew a psychologist/detective to sort things out…

Re-enter Mrs Bradley, intrigued by the tale, especially the fact that it’s not exactly true. More than just the names have been changed. As she tracks down the uncle in question, she discovers that no such poisoning is taking place. But someone has murderous intentions – and when Gillian’s young man is stabbed at the theatre and someone takes a shot at Mrs Bradley, the race is on to find hidden treasure and stop a ruthless killer before things get out of control.

My next step in Crimes of the Century #1941book challenge for Past Offences – my first was the entertaining-if-flawed Heads You Lose. This is the twelfth Mrs Bradley book which I had high hopes for – When Last I Died, from the same year was a good read. But this one…

First off, it’s not a whodunit. Not remotely. It’s a “what-the-swearwording-hell-is-going-on” mystery, as Mrs Bradley and Gillian gallivant all over the north of England and Scotland trying to find the truth in the story – for example, in the story told, the house is on a hill, but the Lincolnshire house is surrounded by flat countryside. Meanwhile, they’ve discovered a cryptic series of clues that seem to lead to treasure of some description. But if you can follow the clues to understand how the treasure is found, you’re a better detective than me.

There’s some nice humour at times in the tale, in particular with regards George, Mrs Bradley’s chauffeur, and his ambitions in life, but other than this, I found the book pretty flawed. The pacing is all over the place, not least in the finale that takes absolutely forever, and the danger posed by the villain of the piece seems to vary from near-comic (a sequence with Gillian in a hotel) to homicidally maniacal. Add in the vaguest of reasons to involve Mrs Bradley in the first place (although there are plenty of other aspects of the plot that I didn’t understand either) and it’s a bit of a mess really. Not a mystery and yet too convoluted to be an adventure.

Confusing to the point of non-sensibility, needless to say, this is Not Recommended.

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25 comments

  1. I’m a big fan of both Gladys Mitchell and Mrs. Bradley, but this is one of her least lucid novels and next to impossible to defend. To think this used to be one of her rarest and most sought-after mysteries. But don’t give up on Mitchell. There still such wonderful gems as Come Away, Death and St. Peter’s Finger.

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    • Oh, imagine if you were a rabid collector and this was the last one on the list. You finally got a copy and then… oh dear.

      Thanks for the info – I wasn’t planning to abandon Mitchell, but if this had been the first of hers that I’ve read, then I might have done so…

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      • I can only imagine how disappointed some collectors must have been, because I was profoundly disappointed when I got my hands on the Minnow Press edition. They were among the first to reprint Gladys Mitchell during the 2000s and were dedicated to reprinting Mitchell’s rarest, hard-to-find titles in attractive, but somewhat pricey, hardcover editions. On top of that, I missed out on the only (reportedly) good title from that series of reprints (Brazen Tongue), which went quickly out-of-print. I guess they are all out-of-print now, but most, if not all, of her better books are currently print. So that doesn’t really matter unless you’re a collector of rare and expensive hardcover editions.

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      • I think this is the reason that I can’t quite bring myself to track down those final few Carr books that I haven’t read – The Hungry Goblin, Papa La-Bas and Ghosts Of High Noon. Every says how sub-par they are and I think I’d prefer to leave them to the imagination… Even so, I think one of the last ones that I read for the first time was The Blind Barber, which was a real disappointment…

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  2. […] The interest here goes without saying. A book that got an absolute kicking amongst the mystery reviewing community. There’s a second one on the way, Closed Casket, in September 2016 and I will take a look at it. It will be interesting to see if Hannah has adapted her approach, although some of the gushing reviews that appeared in the national press (some from people who seemed to only know Poirot from the television) might mean we’re going to get more of the same. This book has generated my own little slogan – Puzzle Doctor, Reading Books So You Don’t Have To – that applies nicely to a couple of recent books as well, The Pit-Prop Syndicate and Hangman’s Curfew. […]

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  3. I haven’t read the book, but from this review it sounds like it was playing with expectations: we assume the story Gillian was told was true and would lead to another case but instead the story isn’t true at all and Mrs Bradley is led down the garden path, as it were.

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