Faintley Speaking (Gladys Mitchell)

By Gladys Mitchell

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1954

Blurb (UK)

Mitchell - Faintley Speaking.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

If an impecunious author had not accidentally intercepted a telephone call, the mysterious case of Miss Faintley might have defied even Mrs. Bradley’s efforts at solution.  The telephone message began, ‘Faintley speaking…’ and proceeded with instructions to collect a parcel from the local railway station and deliver it to a somewhat shady shopkeeper.  The impecunious author delivered the parcel and was so unwise as to demand payment for it…

Not long after, Miss Faintley was murdered.  It seemed at first unlikely that she, a prim, quiet schoolmistress, could have anything to do with gang-work – or with currency smuggling.  Yet it was to these activities that Mrs. Bradley’s investigations led, and which were uncovered in a climax as exciting as anything Miss Mitchell has contrived.

My review

Faintly plotted, as well. It begins with a convincingly mystifying event: a telephone call with criminal implications. There then follows the disappearance of a spinster teacher, the corpse discovered by the attractive Laura Menzies and a well-depicted child, on a cliff overlooking the sea. The book is more of a thriller than a detective story proper. Miss Faintley’s killer is met once, then accused. Mrs. Bradley goes to France, and Laura goes undercover at Miss Faintley’s school. Mrs. Bradley is attacked by the murderer with a chisel (St Peter’s Finger), and there are boat chases and midnight vigils at the end. The plot is derived from Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise (1933), but there are elements which crop up in other Mitchells: the slow murder of an unwanted relative (The Devil at Saxon Wall, The Nodding Canaries), and the criminal having himself arrested to escape retribution (Fault in the Structure).

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Paul Matthews, 7th May 1954):

Faintley Speaking will come as a disappointment to those who have followed Miss Mitchell’s previous accounts of the activities of Mrs. Bradley.  This story of an (almost) accidental murder involving a gang of smugglers who use as a code the Latin names of the better-known British ferns is by no means up to the author’s usual standard.  Is it, perhaps, that one has become a little tired of Mrs. Bradley, her recurring cackle and crocodile-like cast of countenance?  In any case, the characters carry no conviction and the general effect is somewhat laboured—what the French term “un honnête effort,” a quality insufficient to start a detective story off with the impetus which alone will sustain it until it reaches the exciting climax that must be its proper, and indeed its only, end.


Observer (Maurice Richardson, 9th May 1954):

Investigating vicariously, via her games-mistressy secretary, Laura, Mrs. Bradley solves murder of a prim botany mistress who got mixed up in a currency-smuggling racket.  Lively, solid, ingenious as ever, with lots of cosy school scenes.


Sydney Morning Herald (J.J.Q., 31st July 1954):

One evening, as a needy novelist entered a telephone box in Kindleford, the bell rang; when he lifted the receiver, an agitated female voice asked him to collect a parcel and deliver it to a local draper.  (The English system allows a subscriber to ring up a public telephone.)

Three days later, Miss Faintley, of Kindleford coeducational school, disappeared from her hotel at Cromlech.  Holidaying at the same hotel were Mrs. Lestrange Bradley, a psychiatrist, and her secretary, Laura.  In the course of wandering over the Cromlech cliffs, Laura found the body of the missing teacher with a commando knife through the neck.

Inspectors Vardon and Darling harry witnesses in two counties and dig up inconclusive evidence while Mrs. Bradley and Laura meddle in the police field, sail into Cromlech’s coves and range as far as the prehistoric caves at Lascaux.  It is varied, diverting detective work.  The mystery deepens until a discovery by Mrs. Bradley correlates the clues.