Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Hearse on May-Day: Review

A Hearse on May Day (1972) is one of the odder stories in the Mrs. Bradley series by Gladys Mitchell. Mrs. Bradley doesn't really come into the story until about the half-way point and most of the action focuses on her great-niece Fenella. Fenella is traveling across Britain to prepare for her own wedding and by a whim decides to stop in the small village of Seven Wells for lunch. After a fairly tasty meal of chicken salad she returns to her car to continue her journey only to find that it will not start. She knows little of the inner workings of automobiles and must rely on the publican to help her see to her car. It winds up that it cannot be easily fixed and she must spend the night in Seven Wells.

She is warned by everyone she comes across that that evening is "Mayering" eve and that outsiders like her should stay put in their rooms and not even peek out till morning. Well, of course, as soon as Fenella's told not to do something she immediately does--off wandering through the village, running into the Zodiac secret society, being accosted by a young man who seems too interested in her activities to suit her, and becoming aware that the village is apparently running short of skeletons for their top-secret Mayering Eve celebration.

When she later relates her experiences to Mrs. Bradley, her aunt decides to go down to the village and see for herself. It helps that just before May Day the village squire was murdered and Mrs. Bradley is asked to investigate. She begins to suspect that the squire's death may be connected to the village's shortage of skeletons. But would someone really murder the man who had no obvious enemies just to get access to the family crypt and the ancient bones lodged therein?  When the remains of five family members come up missing it appears so. Is everything really the way it seems?

A lively late entry in the series which gives a nice view of the small village atmosphere as well as a bit of folklore in connection with May Day observances, the mystery itself is not as strong as it could be. Mrs. Bradley is, as always, fun to watch in action--but there is less of it here than in some of the earlier novels. And, honestly, there isn't much to choose from in the way of suspects, so it shouldn't be too difficult to spot the culprit/s. Great writing and interesting development of the niece and her adventures balance the deficiencies to provide a solid  ★★★ outing.  [Actually finished on 6/15/14--I'm a bit behind on my reviews.]

This fulfills the "Time/Day/Month/Etc" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Anonymous said...

I must admit that I really liked this one, Bev. I think it's a good "first" read for someone new to Mrs. Bradley - perhaps because she is, as you observe, toned down from her usual rather frenetic self. The English eccentricities also seem more manageable here - though I love those warnings about "Mayering," and the Zodiac group is hardly your average bunch of solid citizens!

Bev Hankins said...

Les: Yes, I remembered from your review of it that you thought it a good introduction to Mrs. Bradley. I will agree. I plunged right in with her on one of her more frenetic (as you say) outings on my first read--and was delighted with her. So, the toned-down version seems a little bland to me. But still a very enjoyable read.

fredamans said...

Seems like odd was still a good thing though. Great review!

Ryan said...

The book may be good, but that cover is atrocious.