I enjoy murder mysteries, especially the classic "who-dunnit" and most especially those with a period setting, whether introduce or actual. The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries - Series 1 (Speedy Death / The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries) presented on PBS/BBC Mystery Theater with Dianna Riggs in the title roll are very engaging, so I decided I'd follow up on the original Mrs. Bradley mysteries by Gladys Mitchell. Unfortunately I found little beyond the last name and profession of the central character and a plot revolving around a dead man who is discovered to be female that in any way connects the two at all.
While I enjoy Dianna Riggs' urban, witty and thoroughly modern Adela Bradley, divorcee and psychoanalyst extraordinaire, I found the book's prototype of her, Mrs. Lestrange Bradley, far less entertaining. The author's use of descriptives for her physical appearance like "reptilian," "alligator," "python," "eldritch," her skin "yellowed" and "parched", her mannerisms as "birdlike," "screeching," and so on, create a character that is in no way attractive. Furthermore, her behavior suggests someone who feels she is above the law. Ms Riggs' character is inclined to look upon the foibles of society with a less jaundiced eye and a more humane interpretation than that of the books. Her witty criticisms strip social hypocracy bare, revealing the sometimes sad emotional nakedness of the individuals beneath it.
It would have been easier to forgive the repellant heroine if the story itself had had some degree of craft, but it barely held up to anything like the better crafted "manor house" style mysteries of authors like Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and others of the genre. The PBS/BBC version of the same title is so much more carefully scripted. While the author was herself writing in the 1920s (the copyright is 1929), the TV movie version manages to capture the style, culture, attitudes and technology of the era far better. The book consists almost entirely of dialogue, filled with the trendy slang of the day, and card board cutout characters who are simply "types" into whose mouths the dialogue is placed. It's as though the writers who recreated the character for TV and rescripted the tale presented in the book had a better understanding of the time period and what constituted it than the author. The author gives no real sense of time other than casual mention of the war and interogating German prisoners of war. Lush descriptions of interior decore, of dress and make up for the period are lacking. There is little sense of venue at all. The book might well be a play, with little more descripion of the ambiance beyond that needed for stage management! Very sad, almost a missed chance.
I expected a lot more.