LISTS : THE BEST AND THE WORST

Gladys Mitchell's prolific output of Mrs. Bradley books make subjective "best" and "worst" lists from fans an intriguing gambit. I've posted here the lists of avid readers--myself, Nicholas Fuller, and Andrew Osmond included--which rate the Mrs. Bradley titles from most- to least- favorite.

If you have read a dozen or more Mitchell titles and would like to add your own list to the mix, please e-mail it to me and I'll gladly post it. I find these subjective reviews very interesting to compare and contrast with one's own experience, and how one's favorite can be another's disappointment. Make what you will of this information....

JASON HALL'S LIST (best to worst)

1. When Last I Died (1941)
2. The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
3. The Rising of the Moon (1945)
4. The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (1929)
5. Death at the Opera (1934)
6. Tom Brown's Body (1949)
7. Come Away, Death (1937)
8. Dance to Your Daddy (1969)
9. The Twenty-Third Man (1957)
10. Death and the Maiden (1947)
11. The Echoing Strangers (1952)
12. Speedy Death (1929)
13. The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935)
14. The Longer Bodies (1930)
15. Laurels Are Poison (1942)
16. Late, Late in the Evening (1976)
17. St. Peter's Finger (1938)
18. Three Quick and Five Dead (1968)
19. Nest of Vipers (1979)
20 . The Devil's Elbow (1951)
21. Groaning Spinney (1950)
22. Brazen Tongue (1940)
23. Printer's Error (1939)
24. A Hearse on May-Day (1972)
25. Here Comes a Chopper (1946)
26. The Worsted Viper (1943)
27. Gory Dew (1970)
28. My Bones Will Keep (1962)
29. The Man Who Grew Tomatoes (1959)
30. Say It with Flowers (1960)
31 . Merlin's Furlong (1953)
32 . Dead Men's Morris (1936)
33. Sunset over Soho (1943)
34. The Dancing Druids (1948)
35. My Father Sleeps (1944)
36. Watson's Choice (1955)
37. Spotted Hemlock (1958)
38. Convent on Styx (1975)
39. The Nodding Canaries (1961)
40. The Greenstone Griffins (1983)
41 . Wraiths and Changelings (1978)
42 . The Crozier Pharoahs (1984)
43 . The Mudflats of the Dead (1979)
44 . Fault in the Structure (1977)
45. Hangman's Curfew (1941)
46. Winking at the Brim (1974)
47. Mingled with Venom (1978)
48. Death of a Burrowing Mole (1982)
49. Noonday and Night (1977)
50 . Skeleton Island (1967)
51 . Lament for Leto (1971)
52 . The Murder of Busy Lizzie (1973)
53 . Cold, Lone and Still (1983)
54 . No Winding-Sheet (1984)
55 . A Javelin for Jonah (1974)
56 . The Death-Cap Dancers (1981)
57. Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982)
58. Pageant of Murder (1965)
59. Twelve Horses and the Hangman's Noose (1956)
60 . Lovers, Make Moan (1981)
61. The Croaking Raven (1966)
62 . The Whispering Knights (1980)
63 . Faintley Speaking (1954)
64 . Adders on the Heath (1963)
65 . Death of a Delft Blue (1964)
66. Uncoffin'd Clay (1980)

NICHOLAS FULLER'S LIST

In December 2006 Nick sent me this best-to-worst GM list with personal notes on many of the titles. With his permission, I'm posting the list with his impressions intact, as they are enjoyably astute! -- JH

1. Come Away, Death (5+)
2. The Devil at Saxon Wall
3. Death and the Maiden (the quintessential Mitchell)
4. The Saltmarsh Murders
5. Death at the Opera (spoof on the genre, with least likely person; brilliant clues; Mrs B and the wife murderer)
6. When Last I Died (see above)
7. St Peter’s Finger (great in so many ways; probably her best detective story, excellent characterisation; more serious than most) (5)
8. The Echoing Strangers (7, 8 & 9 are pretty interchangeable)
9. Brazen Tongue (definitely top ten - great characters, plot & setting, even though it's ultra-complex)
10. The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (great plot, but a bit jejune)
11. The Twenty-third Man (is it really better than Tom Brown’s Body?)
12. The Rising of the Moon (could be higher, could be lower, need to reread)
13. Tom Brown’s Body (4+) - Much higher? Superb read, but slightly arbitrary murderer? Another one I need to reread!)
14. Dead Men’s Morris (on the threshold of a 5, but I spotted the murderer; still a favourite)
15. Merlin’s Furlong (lots of fun & imagination)
16. Groaning Spinney (one I associate with Morris, for obvious reasons; one of GM's best plots)
17. The Longer Bodies (4) (17, 18, 19 & 20 much the same level)
18. Laurels are Poison (or is it better than The Longer Bodies?)
19. The Dancing Druids (again, 18 & 19 are pretty much interchangeable)
20. Here Comes a Chopper (goes to pieces towards the end, until then one of the best)
21. The Greenstone Griffins (GM’s last book – builds on, rather than reusing, earlier themes)
22. Dance to Your Daddy (best 1960s GM – could be higher, maybe not?)
23. The Man Who Grew Tomatoes
24. My Bones Will Keep
25. The Croaking Raven (good fun, but solution not memorable)
26. Nest of Vipers (the best 1970s GM, but it’s a rewrite of Merlin’s Furlong!)
27. My Father Sleeps (lots of fun, but confused; self-indulgent at end) (4-)
28. Sunset over Soho (is it higher? Fascinating, but flawed)
29. Fault in the Structure (could be lower)
30 . Speedy Death (good plot, but very melodramatic!)
31. Here Lies Gloria Mundy (another one to reread – liked it a lot in 1999)
32. Late, Late in the Evening (need to reread – wasn’t impressed as 16 yr-old)
33. Printer’s Error (fun, but surprisingly immature) (3+)
34. The Whispering Knights (great setting, but routine detection & plot)
35. Watson’s Choice (competent & amusing – maybe much higher) (3)
36. The Devil’s Elbow (well-written & competent, but humdrum plot)
37. The Worsted Viper (good outdoors thriller, lots of Mrs. Bradley, but doesn’t work for me – what are the villains up to? Croftsian boat chase at end)
38. Gory Dew (good, clever plot, but still feels minor)
39. Spotted Hemlock (one I read in a day, so hard to judge – arbitrary murderer, lots of interviewing, but thought it a pleasant read; critics love it)
40 . 12 Horses & the Hangman’s Noose (too much Laura, but by no means bad)
41. The Murder of Busty Lizzie (fun, but solution’s fairly arbitrary)
42. Death of a Delft Blue (liked the Dutch setting, but the plot’s humdrum)
43. The Mudflats of the Dead (average plot, but great opening chapters, & has the cool ghost-writing bit)
44. Hangman’s Curfew (need to reread – very, very busy, complex, plot, with lots of action, Mrs. Bradley at her most hyper, but plot doesn’t make any sense – fun but frustrating)
45. Wraiths and Changelings (need to reread – liked the ghost stuff, but thought it very boring; Dame B doesn’t do anything – I was reading Speedy Death at the library at the same time, though!)
46. A Hearse on May-Day (couldn’t really concentrate on this one, because of eye-strain, but found it disappointing rewrite of Saxon Wall – too high expectations!) (3-)
47. The Nodding Canaries (bit dull, but solid & competent)
48. A Javelin for Jonah (good setting, but supremely arbitrary murderer)
49. Convent on Styx (rewrite of St Peter – Monty Python solution)
50 . Lament for Leto (rewrite of Come Away, Death; characters different; enjoyable, but minor)
51. Faintley Speaking (need to reread – don’t really remember it)
52. Three Quick and Five Dead (hated it first time round – put me off GM for a couple of months until I found Saltmarsh – now pleasant if average read)
53. The Crozier Pharaohs (GM’s last, but maybe Griffins last written; competent, but unexciting; liked the lunatic, though)
54. Mingled with Venom (pleasant but forgettable)
55. Cold, Lone & Still (unreliable narrator, like Soho, but fairly average solution)
56. Winking at the Brim (should have been much better – Loch Ness Monster hunt, Nessie eats murderer but dull detection & solution)
57. The Death-Cap Dancers
58. Noonday and Night (forgettable – made no impression; of course, very stressed at the time [first year of uni])
59. Uncoffin’d Clay (very minor; a lot more could have been done with Sheik – great cover, though)
60 . Lovers, Make Moan (very late – too much dialogue, irritating child, average solution)
61 . No Winding-Sheet (very forgettable, police procedure, arbitrary murderer)
62. Death of a Burrowing Mole (need to reread – didn’t like it first time, but could be just average) (2)
63. Pageant of Murder (very boring, arbitrary murderer)
64. Say It With Flowers (plot makes no sense, very boring)
65. Skeleton Island (boring, silly plot, murderer doesn’t appear until end)
66. Adders on the Heath (unquestionably GM’s worst)

STEVE STEINER'S LIST
(Steve was the first person to rate all 66 Mrs. Bradley titles!)

1. When Last I Died (1941)
2. Laurels Are Poison (1942)
3. The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (1929)
4. The Rising of the Moon (1945)
5. Dance to Your Daddy (1969)
6. A Hearse on May-Day (1972)
7. Merlin's Furlong (1953)
8. The Greenstone Griffins (1983)
9. Dead Men's Morris (1936)
10. St. Peter's Finger (1938)
11. Tom Brown's Body (1949)
12. Late, Late in the Evening (1976)
13. The Longer Bodies (1930)
14. Death at the Opera (1934)
15. The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
16. Groaning Spinney (1950)
17. The Worsted Viper (1943)
18. Hangman's Curfew (1941)
19. A Javelin for Jonah (1974)
20 . Printer's Error (1939)
21 . Death and the Maiden (1947)
22. The Twenty-Third Man (1957)
23. Death of a Burrowing Mole (1982)
24. No Winding Sheet (1984)
25. Cold, Lone and Still (1983)
26. Lovers, Make Moan (1981)
27. Gory Dew (1970)
28. Fault in the Structure (1977)
29. The Echoing Strangers (1952)
30. The Croaking Raven (1966)
31. Pageant of Murder (1965)
32. Wraiths and Changelings (1978)
33. Three Quick and Five Dead (1968)
34. Say It with Flowers (1960)
35. My Bones Will Keep (1962)
36. Spotted Hemlock (1958)
37. Come Away, Death (1937)
38. Watson's Choice (1955)
39. Here Comes a Chopper (1946)
40 . The Man Who Grew Tomatoes (1959)
41 . Noonday and Night (1977)
42. Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982)
43. The Crozier Pharoahs (1984)
44. The Mudflats of the Dead (1979)
45. The Murder of Busy Lizzie (1973)
46. Convent on Styx (1975)
47. Nest of Vipers (1979)
48. Lament for Leto (1971)
49. Skeleton Island (1967)
50 . Death of a Delft Blue (1964)
51 . The Nodding Canaries (1961)
52. Sunset Over Soho (1943)
53. Winking at the Brim (1974)
54. Faintley Speaking (1954)
55. The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935)
56. Speedy Death (1929)
57. Brazen Tongue (1940)
58. My Father Sleeps (1944)
59. The Death-Cap Dancers (1981)
60. Adders on the Heath (1963)
61. Twelve Horses and the Hangman's Noose (1956)
62. The Whispering Knights (1980)
63. Uncoffin'd Clay (1980)
64. The Devil's Elbow (1951)
65. The Dancing Druids (1948)
66. Mingled with Venom (1978)


RYAN OLSEN'S LIST

1. The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
2. The Death-Cap Dancers (1981)
3. Brazen Tongue (1940)
4. The Twenty-Third Man (1957)
5 . The Dancing Druids (1948)
6 . Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982)
7 . Mingled with Venom (1978)
8 . Dead Men’s Morris (1936)
9 . Winking at the Brim (1974)
10 . Wraiths and Changelings (1978)
11. The Crozier Pharaohs (1984)
12. The Greenstone Griffins (1983)
13. The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929)
14. Speedy Death (1929)
15. A Hearse on May-Day (1972)
16. Uncoffin’d Clay (1980)
17. The Rising of the Moon (1945)
18. The Worsted Viper (1943)
19. Death at the Opera (1934)
20. Laurels are Poison (1942)
21. Come Away, Death (1937)
22. Lament for Leto (1971)
23.Cold, Lone, and Still (1983)
24. Tom Brown’s Body (1949)
25. Faintley Speaking (1954)
26. Printer's Error (1939)
27. St. Peter’s Finger (1938)
28. Nest of Vipers (1979)
29. When Last I Died (1941)
30. Sunset over Soho (1943)

ANDREW OSMOND'S LIST

1. When Last I Died (1941)
2. A Hearse on May-Day (1972)
3. Death and the Maiden (1947)
4. The Death-Cap Dancers (1981)
5. The Greenstone Griffins (1983)
6. The Longer Bodies (1930)
7. Late, Late in the Evening (1976)
8. A Javelin for Jonah (1974)
9. The Rising of the Moon (1945)
10. The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (1929)
11. Cold, Lone and Still (1983)
12. Laurels Are Poison (1942)
13. The Worsted Viper (1943)
14. My Bones Will Keep (1962)
15. Winking at the Brim (1974)
16. The Murder of Buzy Lizzie (1973)
17. The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
18. Speedy Death (1929)
19. Pageant of Murder (1965)
20. No Winding-Sheet (1984)
21. The Mudflats of the Dead (1979)
22. The Echoing Strangers (1952)
23. Spotted Hemlock (1958)
24. Death of a Burrowing Mole (1982)
25. The Croaking Raven (1966)
26. Skeleton Island (1967)
27. Three Quick and Five Dead (1968)
28. Dance to Your Daddy (1969)
29. Lovers, Make Moan (1981)
30. Merlin's Furlong (1953)
31. Adders on the Heath (1963)
32. The Nodding Canaries (1961)
33. Faintley Speaking (1954)
34. Tom Brown's Body (1949)
35. Twelve Horses and the Hangman's Noose (1956)
36. The Whispering Knights (1980)
37. Fault in the Structure (1977)
38. Watson's Choice (1955)
39. Noonday and Night (1977)
40. Here Lies Gloria Mundy (1982)
41. The Dancing Druids (1948)
42. Here Comes a Chopper (1946)
43. Dead Men's Morris (1936)
44. Mingled with Venom (1978)
45. Groaning Spinney (1950)
46. Wraiths & Changelings (1978)
47. The Devil's Elbow (1951)
48. The Crozier Pharoahs (1984)
49. Death at the Opera (1934)
50. The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935)
51. St. Peter's Finger (1938)
52. Nest of Vipers (1979)
53. Convent on Styx (1975)
54. Brazen Tongue (1940)
55. Man Who Grew Tomatoes (1959)
56. Gory Dew (1970)
57. Come Away, Death (1937)
58. The Twenty-Third Man (1957)
59. Lament for Leto (1971)
60. Death of a Delft Blue (1964)
61. Sunset over Soho (1943)

Observations on the above list--by Andrew Osmond

When Last I Died
I guess this title will always hold an affection with me, being the first ever Gladys I read, and for my money, still one of the best. Written in 1941, a fair proportion of the book is the account of a past crime, told in diary format - not normally my favourite narrative method - but the plot is so solid, and the language so singular, that it makes for an excellent story. Classic Gladys' motifs include the reformatory school angle, the hinted death by drowning, and the venture into the world of the occult.

A Hearse on May-Day
Another female relative to the detective-psychiatrist - this time the feisty Fenella - is produced to uncover the mysterious goings on in the village of Seven Wells. This story, for me, has echoes of that great British horror movie, The Wicker Man - all present are a cut-off village community, traditional May-Day rituals and celebrations, macabre occult ceremonies, and of course suspicious death. A thrilling tale.

Death and the Maiden
A modern-day (well it was in 1947 when it was first published) naiad hunt in the River Itchen, this story has a similar theme to a later - and also thoroughly enjoyable - Gladys' book, Winking at the Brim, which has as its story the search for the Loch Ness Monster! Death and the Maiden reveals in Gladys' descriptions her ever-present love of the English countryside, in this case the watery reaches of a Hampshire stream; contains a fine cast of eccentric characters; and also benefits from having one of the most eerie dust-wrapper designs.

The Death-Cap Dancers
A very late Gladys, published in 1981, this story tells of the decimation of a seemingly-innocent, folk-dance group, by a killer or killers unknown. It is unusual for Gladys in several ways: the setting is the Yorkshire moors, and although many of her stories are set in wild areas of Britain, rarely has Yorkshire featured. Also unusual, is the fact that the account is largely told by a female member of Mrs Bradley's extended family, in this case the youthful Hermione: more-often-than-not, Gladys seemed to favour male narrators. My only criticism of an otherwise excellent story is the feeble ending, which seems to finish too abruptly, and with Nemesis arriving rather unconvincingly.

The Greenstone Griffins
Published in the year of Gladys' death, this is a convincing tale of murder and obsession. The griffins of the title are two jade ornaments, which become a fixation in the mind of one Jessica Denefield, a seemingly innocent young woman, dogged by misfortune and accident, who believes that her own life and the griffins are inextricably linked and also cursed. It takes Mrs Bradley to extricate coincidence from collusion.

WORST:

Sunset Over Soho
My all-time least favourite - try as I might - and I have tried several times - I have never enjoyed this description of wartime London, mainly because I have never found any sympathy for its narrator David Harben. Published in 1943, perhaps the larger events of the times, accounts for the uncharacteristic lack of humour in this tale.

Come Away, Death
Gladys was a keen chronicler of place - most notably in Britain: the New Forest, the Norfolk Broads, and the Scottish Highlands. She also visited Greece on a couple of occasions, both literally and literary, and I'm afraid that I enjoyed neither excursion. Ever one for the classical literary allusion, I'm afraid in this case I just couldn't keep pace.

Lament for Leto
Published 34 years after Come Away, Death, Lament for Leto returns to a similar theme, destination, and cast of characters, to my mind with even more disappointing results.

The Twenty-Third Man
Not in Greece perhaps, but still in the Med, this story is set on the imaginary Spanish island of Hombres Muertos. The cast of eccentric guests to the island were fondly drawn, but I found the local characterisations rather dull. Get back to Britain, please Gladys.

Death of a Delft Blue
Maybe she just doesn't travel well, but a new overseas location, and another duff mystery. This time the setting is Amsterdam, and my problem again is an unsympathetic lead character - I little care if the wolfish Florian Colwyn-Welch's life is under threat, because he is such a spoilt brat. A rather involved 'family' murder mystery, hanging on just who is related to who, which is not really to my taste.