First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1978
Lovers of Cornwall may like to know that this novel is set round and about Veryan Bay, from Dodman Point to Nare Head.
The setting is a family one and concerns the death of a wealthy grandmother who frustrates and tantalises her relatives by half promising to disclose the contents of her Will, but never getting down to details.
There are cross-currents in the form of illicit love affairs between the inhabitants of the three houses involved, complicated by the adoption, in one family, of an extrovert intelligent negro boy who has his own methods of solving problems.
As the title suggests, the vehicle for murder is poison. The wrong person is arrested, and it falls to the omniscient Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley to put matters right and pinpoint the real murderer.
Although minor, Mingled with Venom is enjoyable Gladys Mitchell, the classic situation of wills and poisoning, against a Cornish background.
The plot concerns the murder of a wealthy grandmother, Romula Leyden — a seemingly strong-willed and selfish woman, but, as the remark of one of her relatives shows, pathetic, believing that “she could buy from us what she couldn’t get voluntarily from the actual blood relations, real genuine gratitude.” Having failed to disclose the conditions of her will, she is poisoned — aconitine administered in horseradish sauce (of which the recipe is given); the murder proving that money is “the root of all evil — or do you think horseradish is that?” The characterisation is good, showing Mitchell’s gift for creating believable portraits—the best is without any doubt Gamaliel Leek, who prefers to be called Greg Ubi, the black adopted son of Mrs. Leyden’s grand-daughter — although worries about Mrs. Leyden’s racist reactions date the book, Mitchell obviously has affection for the boy, and the treatment of him as a normal boy, rather than a Negro (or worse, as it would be in Christie’s and Marsh’s books), is pleasing to see. Dame Beatrice Bradley — lamentably toned down, so much so that it is difficult to believe her statement to the murderer that she could easily snap his wrist, although thankfully Laura does not appear much, nor do the monstrous regiment of women, the Three Musketeers — takes an interest in the boy’s boxing. The names of the family are daft, “both interesting and picturesque” — Bluebell Leek indeed! Names are important, in that the victim’s name is responsible for the means of their death.
The plot is admirably clear, and the clues to the murderer’s identity sufficient for the reader to be able to hazard a guess at the villain’s identity — one clue in particular, disguised as a lengthy description of setting, being quite clever. The narrative is straight-forward and clear, pleasingly direct, and the setting, amidst plenty of botanical lore, is well-drawn.
Good, straight-forward Gladys Mitchell, showing that even late, late in the evening, she had not lost her powers of narrative, characterisation or plotting — a book pleasing to all her admirers.
The Times (H.R.F. Keating, 31st August 1978):
Cornwall, murder, Dame Beatrice on the warpath. Lovers of the good old whodunit everywhere are still admirably catered for.
Aberdeen Press & Journal:
There can surely be no one more practiced in the art of thriller-writing than Gladys Mitchell.