Collecting the crime novels of Gladys Mitchell, one of the things that most thrilled me were her titles. They were so alluring, evocative, mysterious in themselves. Who could not get excited with the anticipation of reading a book called Gory Dew? Or Mudflats of the Dead? Or The Worsted Viper?
So, it is frustrating to see a couple of her books republished and retitled simply to hook a Christmas market. Dead Men’s Morris (Michael Joseph, 1936) has become Death Comes at Christmas (Vintage, 2019) and Groaning Spinney (Michael Joseph, 1950)––what a great original title!––has morphed into Murder in the Snow: A Cotswold Christmas Mystery (Vintage, 2017). Much as it is good to see the books back in print, it is a shame that commercial considerations in publishing over-ride artistic ones.
Perhaps it simply reflects a decline in the popularity of Morris dancing over the years, or that no one, any longer, knows the meaning of the word ‘spinney’––a small areas of trees, since you’re asking (Ed.)
Both books are very solid introductions to Gladys Mitchell’s eccentric sleuth, psychologist Mrs––later Dame––Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley. Both share a nice, cosy, British winter countryside as their backdrop; in each case with Mrs Bradley spending the festive season with one of her numerous relations––on nephew Carey’s pig farm in Oxfordshire in Dead Men’s Morris and with nephew Jonathan and his wife Deborah at their home in the Cotswolds in Groaning Spinney. There are local characters galore; idyllic portraits of rural village life; and, of course, mystery and murder.
If the rebranding of Gladys Mitchell means that she is read by a new and wider audience that is a good thing, but the purist in me instinctively dislike the thought-processes and decision-making that have brought this about. It is a small step on a slippery slope to larger rewritings of the past.
Not a very festive thought, but…
Or as that phrase might now be rebranded:
Bah! Hard peppermint-flavoured boiled sweet!
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow rages futilely against commercialism.