First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1968
This is the story of a mass-murderer. The five victims are women, but, unlike Neill Cream, Jack the Ripper and others, the killer is not a sex-maniac and has genuine reasons for wanting to dispose of at least two of the victims.
There are only three suspects, and the clues could point to any one of them, once Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley has worked out the meaning of the cryptic notices found pinned on the bodies. There is one clue, however, which points directly to one of the three, and dog-lovers will be more likely to spot it than will horse, cat or bird addicts. The meaning of the cryptic notices, coupled with the nationalities of the five dead girls, can be resolved by anybody who cares to consult the Encyclopaedia Britannica or a history of the early Church.
For a time the police and Dame Beatrice follow different trails, but are forced to agree that neither has sufficient evidence to warrant an arrest; the resulting prosecution is a surprise—as its outcome: and a veterinary surgeon has much to do with it.
Although quite readable, it cannot be denied that this serial killer tale is far from classic. The plot and pace never escape the monotony of so much of its ilk: five almost identical murders are committed, nearly all of victims arbitrarily selected, whom we don’t care about, to tie in with a (largely irrelevant) heresy. (Rather than going to all this trouble, why not simply murder the desired victim?) The murderer is fairly obvious from the beginning, but the characterless Dame Beatrice keeps explaining the truth – over and over again, much to the reader’s irritation.
Why lure the dog to the body, other than to provide a crucial clue? – necessary for the plot to happen, but unnecessary in terms of human behaviour.
The Times (H.R.F. Keating, 24th August 1968):
Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley in full cry—pausing only for good, old-fashioned meals—with murder in her own New Forest. Year’s cosiest.
Observer (Maurice Richardson):
Dame Beatrice Bradley solves murder of five women in and around the New Forest. Laura Gavin, her secretary, pregnant again it seems, finds first corpse. Quite good value, but I wish Miss Mitchell, an excellent writer, wasn’t quite so infatuated with her characters.