I’ve always believed Gladys Mitchell to be a bit of an acquired taste. Some of her novels are very good, but some are not and you do have to like her style of writing to really persevere. That said, this example of her short fiction is a lovely example of just how different Mitchell can be.
This story is, essentially, a murder mystery, but I get a very strong feeling that the question of who killed the lead Morris dancer in the middle of the parade is a bit of a sideshow. (Clue – it is who you think it is). This story is more a love letter to rural village life – already on its last legs by the time she was writing – and the weird and wonderful traditions maintained by a few stalwarts. There is clearly a lot of affection here.
Village pageants are, these days, very few and far between and I think that’s quite a shame. The villagers in this story, however, wouldn’t be out of place in BBC’s Dibley but Mitchell steers clear of caricature – just – by showing how important these traditions were in creating a community. This story, like Margery Allingham’s “A Proper Mystery”, is less about the crime and more about village life. For once, it seems out of place in an anthology of mystery stories.
And yes, I enjoyed it a great deal. Maybe Gladys Mitchell is a taste I am acquiring after all.