Say it with Flowers (Gladys Mitchell)

By Gladys Mitchell

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1960

Blurb (UK)

Mithell - Say It With Flowers.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Two leading characters in Gladys Mitchell’s new detective novel are Phlox and Marigold Carmichael, a pair of dilettante Bohemians who wish to find Romano-British treasure trove.  While digging in Hampshire they unearth a skeleton which they show as a Romano-British exhibit.  However, Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley is so doubtful of its origin that she has tests made and discovers the bones to be those of a person killed within the present decade.  And so Miss Mitchell’s famous woman detective takes on a new and exciting case.

My review

A rather dull story in which Dame Beatrice ineffectually investigates the finding of a Roman or Saxon skeleton that turns out to be a modern one, the discovery of more corpses near Hadrian’s Wall and on top of the Manor House Tower, and the drowning of a boatman. Unfortunately, despite characteristic wit, the simultaneous police and amateur investigations are equally boring, and it is very difficult to care why or how the egregious Bohemian should have committed the murders. The plot is full of holes: Having buried the skeleton, why should Phlox dig it up again? If the body near Hadrian’s Wall is not Hilary Beads’s, whose is it, and what relevance does it have to the plot? If it is, then how on earth does it come to be discovered decomposing on top of the house? Very sloppy work, Miss Mitchell.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 23rd October 1960):

Phlox and Marigold, a brother and sister team of demi-bogus Bohemian archaeologists, are exhibiting a Roman-British skeleton.  Dame Bradley quickly spots it as a modern woman very much murdered.  Lively, quirky investigation and good surprise solution.


Times Literary Supplement (Anthony Lejeune, 18th November 1960):

Miss Gladys Mitchell is another leading lady of English detection scarcely less senior [than Agatha Christie].  Her style is spikier and altogether more idiosyncratic: her detective, Mrs. (nowadays Dame) Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, is as forceful as, and perhaps more subtle than, Hercule Poirot himself.  Miss Mitchell’s books should not be read for the plot.  They should be read for Dame Beatrice with her horrid leer and clawlike grasp; for her strapping secretary, Laura; and for the children, whose conversation Miss Mitchell, herself a schoolmistress, always contrives with a touch of comic genius.  Say it with Flowers has Dame Beatrice and Laura, and some small boys and big girls, and a rather rambling story about a modern skeleton dug up during a search for Romano-British remains.  The villains are made obvious from the start but Miss Mitchell still provides an entertainment, if not exactly a detective entertainment, with a flavour all its own.


New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 3rd December 1960):

As Miss Mitchell’s detective plots have developed the exasperating habit of going haywire, it is a relief to find that her latest book is a plain thriller.  In Say It With Flowers the flowers are Phlox and Marigold Carmichael, a pair of homespun archaeologists in sandals, whose nefarious activities rouse Dame Lestrange Bradley from her lair.  We find a skeleton pretending to be ancient Roman in Hampshire, a body on top of a tower and another near Hadrian’s Roman Wall.  (This last, incidentally, is never accounted for that I could discover.)  But Miss Mitchell’s powerful prose and even more powerful imagination surmounts all trivial inconsistencies of time and place.  If only she could stay on the main line and not wander off into sidings, what a performance might she not achieve!


NY Times Bk R (Anthony Boucher, 11th December 1960, 90w):

There are no moderate attitudes on the work of Gladys Mitchell; either you love her (as I do) or you plain can’t read her…  Say it with Flowers [is] one of her very best novels and a sure touchstone for this specialised taste…  The detective, of course, is psychiatrist Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, possibly the most fascinating and maddening female sleuth ever created.


NY Her Trib Lively Arts (James Sandoe, 19th March 1961, 60w):

Typically and rather wonderfully Mitchell, which means rather fitfully considered on a long-term basis and thick strewn with those small pungencies that constitute her singular savour…  Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley presides, her wits in sharp if cryptic order and her slightest grimace electrifying.  Disjunct and droll.