Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spotted Hemlock: Review

Spotted Hemlock by Gladys Mitchell:

As will happen when you have an all-male college situated near an all-female college, there is quite a bit of shenanigans going on.  And not just the late night, clandestine affairs.  The young men of Highpepper Hall, known for their "rags," decide to pull a prank on the ladies of Calladale College--agricultural school for women.  They round up some rhubarb and some dead rats and go planting in the middle of the night.

In the meantime, one of the young women has gone missing and Dame Beatrice Bradley is called in to try and track down where Norah Palliser might have run off to.  When the ladies of Calladale discover the nasty additions to their gardens, they decide to return the favor and gather up the rhubarb in preparation for their own late night escapade.  They plan to stash the plants in an ornamental horse carriage which serves as a pub sign for a local establishment (which just happens to lie at the back door of the men's college)--but their plans go awry when they discover that the carriage is already occupied.  Hidden inside is an unrecognizable body wearing a Calladale blazer.

Norah's mother identifies the body as that of her daughter (a girl in her twenties), but Mrs. Bradley is puzzled  by the fact that the body seems to be that of an older women.  Is Norah, in fact, the woman who has died of hemlock poisoning?  And if so who gave it to her and how did she get into the carriage.  If it's not, Norah, then whose body is it and why is she wearing Norah's blazer?  There's an "evil" step-papa in the offing, a missing pig-lecturer (who lectures about pigs and their care, not to pigs),  a cuckolded husband, a thieving sister, and a mother who doesn't seem terribly upset over her daughter's death.  It's up to Mrs. Bradley to get to the bottom of things....and it will require a reenactment of a headless horseman's ride to do it.

This is a very solid vintage mystery by Gladys Mitchell.  I, of course, loved the academic setting and thought the mystery decently plotted and strewn with plenty of red herrings.  The rounds of interviews with suspects and family members and girls in the school got a tad bit tedious--but overall a good read.  Three stars.


J F Norris said...

Good to know this is one of the better ones. I have a slew of Mitchell's books (including a hardcover of the US edition of SPOTTED HEMLOCK) and I have decided I only want to read the good ones. Apparently a few of the books I bought are among her weakest and least memorable efforts. Hate when I waste my money like that!

Bev Hankins said...

I hope I don't lead you astray, John. I seem to like Mitchell more than you do....

J F Norris said...

Oh, no it wasn't you. I bought all my Mitchell books between 2003 and 2007 ago, coincidentally around the time Rue Morgue started reprinting her books. Then as I proceeded through the batch I kept hitting clunkers and stopped reading. I have about 25 or so of her books but haven't read even half of them. HERE COMES A CHOPPER was my return to reading Mitchell and I'm glad it was better than expected.