THE CROZIER PHARAOHS (1984)
1984 Michael Joseph. Reprinted 1985 Michael Joseph; 1985 Chivers Large Print.
[Bryony Rant:] "Would the running water have washed away fingerprints?"
[Dame Beatrice:] "Yours and those of the murderer? As neither of you is likely to have had your fingerprints taken by the police, the question is immaterial at present."
"Do you know who the murderer is, then?"
"I think I do, but actual proof is missing."
"Will he or she murder anybody else?"
"Myself, perhaps, but that has been my occupational hazard for so many years that I have ceased to regard it as important."
The Rant sisters have gathered a reputation in their coastal village of Abbots Crozier. As daughters of a deceased -- and, in his time, far from beloved -- medical doctor, Morpeth and Bryony Rant decided to remain in the family house and try their hand at raising Pharaoh hounds. Their present canine pool numbers six, all christened with proper Egyptian names such as Isis, Osiris, and Anubis. Two additions to this nontraditional family were soon acquired: Susan, a stoic villager who helps out and refuses payment; and Sekhmet, a black Labrador dog with the friendliest demeanor of all. Susan's discovery of the Lab's early-morning disappearance prompts a countryside search, where the dog is found guarding a pair of trousers and paying no attention to the dead man in the nearby river.
Dame Beatrice is intrigued. She had just received a visit from Bryony and an unwelcome stranger who showed up at the Rant house. Though the man affected to be an Aristophanes-quoting loony, the Home Office psychiatrist felt there was more to it than that. The unidentified victim, however, was not the prospective patient. Instead, that man becomes the second corpse, meeting his death by having his throat slit. As the late doctor's surgery scalpels have disappeared, Dame Beatrice becomes increasingly convinced that the murders are linked in some way to the spinster sisters.
The last Mrs. Bradley novel to be published, The Crozier Pharoahs ends the sleuth's series on an impressive note. The mystery puzzle offered here is not particularly baffling, but it is notable for its lucidity and its effortlessness, especially considering that Gladys Mitchell likely penned the book after the age of 80. Curiously, Pharoahs is one of the clearest plotted of all Mitchell's mysteries: everything is accounted for by story's end, and Laura manages to ask for clarification on anything troubling before the reader can. (Example: Dame Beatrice explains, more or less satisfactorily, why the killer chose to bury the sharp stone used as a weapon on the riverside victim instead of simply throwing it into the water.)
And I'm sure it's a subjective point, but I rather enjoyed a dog-centric story from Miss Mitchell. The hounds are used to track down victim, culprit, and wayward canine alike, and in addition to the six Pharoahs, a countryside poacher's Lurcher and the black Labrador populate the mix. Though I've never sampled quaint animal cosies along the lines of Lilian Jackson Braun's Cat Who Did Various Things series, pet fancying and crime solving seems a reasonable combination. The Crozier Pharoahs is a respectable, rather amiable final case for a memorable detective and her prolific creator.