Winking at the Brim (Gladys Mitchell)

By Gladys Mitchell

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1974

Blurb (UK)

The Loch Ness Monster is always news and the author has always been a firm believer in its existence.  That this existence should lead to murder sounds unlikely but, in this compulsively readable beak, murder does follow the sighting of something not entirely incredible in a small Highland loch called Loch na Tannasg (Gaelic for Loch of the Ghost).

Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, sceptical as ever, is not called upon to testify to the existence of the monster, but to solve the vexed question of whether a supposed suicide is not, in fact, a case of murder, the victim being a mischievous, much-disliked, female member of a monster-seeking expedition to the west of Scotland.

The author has studied all the available literature on the subject of so-called monsters and has visited the Highlands many times.  Winking at the Brim is therefore the result of some years of (admittedly biased) research, but, at any rate, the magnificent scenery of the countryside is a fact, and zealous readers of the book may even learn how to distil their own illegal Scotch.

My review

“And is it about the Loch Ness monster? … I shouldn’t think that would make a very good subject for a novel, would it?”

The Loch Ness monster parts of the book are well-enough done — only in a Gladys Mitchell novel would the heroine be winked at, or the murderer eaten, by the Loch Ness monster. The landscape, the Scottish dialect, and the dialogue are also good. What is not good at all is the detective story, in which the typical Mitchell victim of the 1970s dies of strychnine poisoning—an apparent suicide (hence the title – “Ode to a Nightingale”), but, as the reader knows, murder. The plot is not at all exciting, and loses impetus long before the halfway mark.

Contemporary reviews

The Times (H.R.F. Keating, 3rd October 1974):

Murder whilst hunting Nessie-like Monster.  A puzzle leisurely and literary as of old, and not much the worse for that.


Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, O., 12th June 1981—Michael Neill, NY Daily News Review):

The worst dog of the month is Gladys Mitchell’s Winking at the Brim.  I’ve been struggling to finish this for almost three weeks, reading a page, two pages at a time.

I haven’t found out who killed Angela Barton, the vicious little busybody who makes everyone miserable on Sir Humphrey Calshott’s expedition to Scotland to look for a Nessie-like monster.

The author tries to tell us that Angela was the most obnoxious member of the expedition.  Rot!  Everybody in this book is obnoxious—and boring—including the heroine, Dame Beatrice Bradley.

The author should have killed them all off on Page One and gone into another line of work.