The Whispering Knights (Gladys Mitchell)

By Gladys Mitchell

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1980

Blurb (UK)

The most unusual person in this story, although a very minor character, is a young nun to whom the presence of evil manifests itself as a wraith which flits from stone to stone in the prehistoric circles which a party of amateur archaeologists is investigating.

Ten people, seven women and three men, visit sites in Cumbria, Argyll, Inverness and the islands of Arran and Lewis.  In Cumbria Sister Veronica asserts that she has seen the flitting figure, but only one other person in the group also claims to have seen it.  After an unusual version of the Truth Game is played to pass a wet evening at one of the hotels, the party begins to break up.  Later on, a body is discovered in the stone circle at Callanish on Lewis and another is found in Oxfordshire, the second one a former member of the group.

Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley is present when each body is discovered, and it needs all her expertise to solve both mysteries.

My review


“A very remarkable story and a very unusual set of suspects,” Gavin replied. “Flitting ghosts and stone circles, a nun with extra-sensory powers, a girl who starts off with poltergeists…”

The story is remarkable, and is one of the better examples of latter-day Mitchell, involving sacrifice conducted at stone circles. The use of ancient death sites connected with modern murder is a recurring element in her fiction. The bodies of the two women victims are discovered by Dame Beatrice, Mrs. Gavin and Capella Babbacombe-Starr. Capella is a virgin, Laura is a mother, and Dame Beatrice is… The book is highly readable, and interest is maintained to the end, although the first murder is committed on page 103 of 180 odd. The characters and the stone circles are both good—the stone circles in particular.

Contemporary reviews

The Times (H.R.F. Keating, 21st August 1980):

Two books, essentially the same but in almost everything else very different.  Both are murder mysteries told to beguile and pleasurably inform.  Gladys Mitchell is a British reliable, well past her fiftieth book and still going strong…  The newest Mitchell, though contemporary, is fairly old fashioned, a tour of the standing-stones sites of Britain, though it manages very nicely a Beatrice-Benedick relationship that is by no means dated…

Miss Mitchell’s archaeology may seem tame beside all this [i.e., William X. Kienzle’s glitter in Death Wears a Red Hat], but she contrives a nice touch of creepiness and works in easily plenty from a mind stored as well as minds used to be…  Miss Mitchell is modest, but always lively…

Miss Mitchell keeps to a decent conventional length, and, though she allows herself small digressions (they go with the contract, pretty well), she tells her story with little parting from the good, straight line…  Yet both books conclude with their puzzles solved,…Miss Mitchell’s within the terms of the genre neat and satisfying (Her answer, though I should not hint, is incidentally a lemon).