Death cap mushrooms are a particularly nasty kind of poisonous plant. Here's the way one character in Gladys Mitchell's 1981 book, The Death-Cap Dancers, describes them:
"Deadly poisonous, my dears, and easily mistaken by the uninitiated for a true, wholesome, delicious mushroom. It even grows in the same places as mushrooms. It’s called the Death-Cap and you don’t know you’ve been poisoned until twelve hours after you’ve eaten it and then it’s usually too late for any antidote to work."
It's worth noting that the murderer in this book doesn't rely on the poisonous mushrooms to kill the victims, who belong to a roving dance troupe - instead, the killer leaves one of the mushrooms on the bodies. Truly charming! It's a good thing that Mitchell's detective, psychiatrist Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, is nearby to help trap a killer. The Death-Cap Dancers is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the whole review by clicking here.
It was a matter of a road not taken – or better, perhaps, to speak of an unhelpful byway that was taken – that landed a young woman named Hermione Lestrange with a set of new friends and acquaintances – and also put her right at the center of a distinctly unpleasant murder mystery. Hermione – known to her friends, we are told, as “Hermy One” – was on a driving holiday, somewhat lost and considering turning back – when she happened upon three young women, one of whom had twisted her ankle. Hermione, of course, volunteered to drive the others back to their vacation hideaway, a small forest cabin. She also agreed to join the other three on their holiday. It is in the pursuit of that holiday that the four women stumble across the body of another young woman – a murder victim, a member of a traveling troupe of singers and dancers involved in putting on a show in the nearby village of Gledge End. And it was because the police thought that Hermione and her friends might have been involved in the woman’s death that Hermione called for help to her great-aunt, Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, a very good person to have on your side and a dangerous opponent.
The story of The Death-Cap Dancers tends to jump around a bit, to let us know what is happening to the members of the dance troupe as well as to Hermione Lestrange and the young women she has befriended, with side trips to see what Dame Beatrice herself may be up to. It’s not as confusing as it sounds, and it is certainly entertaining. The alert reader is unlikely to be mystified over the question of who done it, but there is far more challenge involved in watching Mrs. Bradley try to collect the evidence needed to actually convict the killer. I think it's more likely to be appreciated by Mrs. Bradley's existing fans - there are other Mitchell mysteries which may provide a better introduction to these quirky stories - but it's overall a fun read.