WRAITHS AND CHANGELINGS (1978)

1978 Michael Joseph. Reprinted 1980 Magna Print Books.

Cover scan provided by Andrew Osmond.

 

"What kind of frivolous reading have you in mind?"

"Oh, ghost stories and other supernatural matters," said Dame Beatrice, waving a yellow claw. "Your [supernatural] account of All Hallow's Eve fascinated me."

"You think psychics and psychos are closely related, do you?"

"Present company excepted, of course," said Dame Beatrice courteously.

 

An evening of exchanged ghost stories on a windy Hallowe'en night leads Dee Crieff-Tweedle to an inspired idea: she'll organize a ghost hunt. She and her complacent husband (affectionately called "Dum") soon organize a group of thrill seekers, including a curiously muscular clergyman, a male medium calling himself Madame Arcati, and Eiladh Gavin, Laura's daughter and Dame B.'s goddaughter.

Dee has planned out the itinerary with a thoroughness that would make a sergeant-major proud. Among the sites to investigate: a ghostly mass in a Salhouse churchyard, a body thrown over a Roman Fort wall in Burgh Castle, and a benevolent ghost monk (with dutiful ghost dog) in a ghost boat in the waters of Ranworth Broad. In Eiladh's letters to Dame Beatrice, she reports that there's trouble from the start, due to ill will between hostess and just about everyone else in the party. Eiladh records an escalating series of practical jokes to re-enact the ghostly scenarios, culminating in the strangling murders of two group members. Dame B. steps in and, after a round of interviews, clears Eiladh's name whilst collaring the murderer(s?).


Fun but frustrating, Wraiths and Changelings' best asset lay in the intriguing backdrop of haunted rural England. Miss Mitchell's interest in ghost stories and supernatural occurences was put to good use in her writing, my favorite example being the masterful When Last I Died (1941), with its footnotes citing hauntings of real-life locales like the Borley Rectory. I love the atmosphere Miss Mitchell's writing can evoke, and it's very entertaining to accompany (as a reader) the ghost-hunt party as it tramps through ruined castles and grassy banks or the Broads at night.

Though Dame Beatrice takes a back seat (she's only to be found toward the beginning and end of the book), this story has a couple intriguing characters that help the reader forget Mrs. Croc's absence. Dee Crieff-Tweedle is a formidable character and a great creation, and Miss Mitchell paints her manners and mannerisms vividly. Dee alternately barks out orders and coos in baby-talk, depending on the recipient. Eiladh Gavin makes an amiable protagonist, and a subplot tracing her budding romance with a fellow group member offers a pleasant and harmless diversion.

Alas, this is one of a handful of Mitchell novels where Mrs. Bradley's final chapter resolution raises as many questions as it answers. Motives and movements are dismissed in a single sentence (along the lines of "Doubtless so-and-so was responsible for that"), leaving the reader to try to force all the puzzle pieces logically into place. Even after the solution, some points are still unclear. I'm still uncertain who staged which ghost scenarios and why certain characters would bother; a flow chart and pointer stick seem necessary tools. And a LOT of conversation is given in the book to the presence of the monk's ghost dog, which some spectators saw and others did not. Why? Um, I'm not really sure....

But Gladys Mitchell operates much differently from a Golden Age master plotter like Agatha Christie, and I mean that as a compliment to both writers. If I want ingenious clockwork-like mystery puzzles, I pick up Hercule Poirot. If I want a story with atmosphere, intriguing locations, unpredictable story, literary allusion, a fast pace, good dialogue and limitless imagination--that is, if I want a good read--then I pay a visit to Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley.