GLADYS MITCHELL – The Death-Cap Dancers. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1981. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition. Originally published in the UK: Michael Joseph, hc, 1981. Paperback reprint: PaperJacks, Canada, 1986.

   Of all the many writers of the Golden Age of Detection, Gladys Mitchell’s career lasted longer than most of them. Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley appeared in most of her mystery fiction, with Speedy Death being the first, appearing in 1929, when she was 28. There were some 66 in all, and Dancers clocks in as a mere number 59, some 52 years later, when the author was 80.

   Over the years I can recall reading only one other one, which one I’m not sure, but it was toward the middle of the run and I can remember saying to myself, “My, that was a strange one.” (My review of the book may turn up one of these days, as I go through the old fanzines in which they appeared, and if so and when, I’ll be able to tell you more.)

   This one begins when a threesome of young women (in their 20s) on a rustic vacation together invites a fourth to stay with them in the cabin they’ve rented – the fourth, as chance would have it, being a niece of Dame Bradley.

   Which is of course the connection needed when a series of two murders and one nearly fatal attack on a third member of a traveling troupe of folk singers and players begins to occur. In each case, a deadly mushroom is placed in the victims’ wounds.

   The book is leisurely paced, with a rather minimalist approach to story-telling. Characters are wont to speak in huge chunks of dialogue, for example, with a rather straightforward and simple plot, not annoyingly so, but quite noticeably.

   Mrs. Bradley, a trained psychologist by trade, is not brought physically into the story until about the two-thirds point, presumably to protect her niece and her new friends from being under suspicion by the police. And even though the police have gone on to other suspects, the good lady stays on to give them a hand.

   Not that they especially need it. There is only one suspect who fills the bill, someone whom the rather bland Mrs. Bradley spots right away but refuses to name for unspecified reasons, a state of affairs that eccentric sleuths in the Golden Age were also wont to do.

   A not terribly impressive novel of detection, in other words, but strangely enough I enjoyed the book anyway. Other than Dame Bradley (also strangely enough) the characters are largely lively and vivid and you can tell them apart without a scorecard.