The Man Who Grew Tomatoes (Gladys Mitchell)

By Gladys Mitchell

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1959; US, London House, 1959

Blurb (UK)

Two deaths by drowning were followed by verdicts of Accidental Death, but neither the heir to the estate involved nor Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley was satisfied with these verdicts.

Suspicion fell on several people: on a local farmer, for instance, and on a woman whose son had a title to the estate: and there were others.

Set in East Anglia, with excursions for salmon fishing into Scotland, The Man who Grew Tomatoes is undoubtedly one of the best and most exciting of Miss Mitchell’s novels and likely to prove one of the most popular.

My review

A pleasant but minor novel that entertains throughout and is better than any of the 1960s novels except Dance to Your Daddy. Hugh Camber inherits an estate from an unpopular cousin and finds himself involved in anonymous letters, rural fornication and the growing suspicion that his cousin and nephew were murdered. This forms the bulk of the first and best half, showing the English countryside in the style of Dead Men”s Morris and Groaning Spinney. The second half, which consists of the detection, isn’t as good. Dame Beatrice is to the fore, with Laura appearing only in a couple of chapters in Scotland and Hugh performing the Watson role for the rest of the book. The detection is very much in the rather plodding style – questioning of witnesses and traipsing around the countryside that began with Watson’s Choice.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 8th November 1959):

The Parcae are out in treble strength this month.  Dame Bradley in deepest Norfolk, strongly supported by her chauffeur.  What looks like a complex inheritance case; two drownings; tomatoes crossed with deadly nightshade.  You will have to bear with the solution.  If only Miss Mitchell narrated as well as she writes.


Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 20th November 1959):

Inheriting a country house and estate leads inevitably to involvement in a labyrinth of crime, if detective-story tradition is to be trusted.  The Man Who Grew Tomatoes bears this out, for the new heir soon finds it necessary to embark upon an investigation of the deaths of the two people who had previously stood between him and the property.  In this he is assisted by Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, whose acumen and eldritch cackle are features well known to readers of Miss Mitchell’s stories.  The East Anglian scenery and background characters are amusingly touched in—the dialect with special relish—but it is by no means easy to take a sufficient interest in the search for the killer.