If that most competent, if somewhat eccentric, psychiatrist, Mrs. Beatrice Bradley, finds herself nonplussed by anything she observes, she rarely lets on - at least in the books about her that I have read so far. I make that observation after watching Mrs. Bradley's reaction to what I suspect most of us would have considered a most unusual incident. Mrs. Bradley is cruising down an English river (strictly for recreation) when she observes a young man - a young man whom, she later learned, was both deaf and dumb - and an older woman apparently arguing on the shore. The young man suddenly pushes the woman into the river (which is fairly deep at that point), then turns and walks away. Mrs. Bradley and her chauffeur rescue the woman - whose sole reaction, expressed to Mrs. Bradley, is, "well, he’s never done THAT before." For Mrs. Bradley, it is the beginning of what will turn out to be a difficult and memorable case, which is presented to us by Gladys Mitchell in The Echoing Strangers, a Mrs. Bradley mystery from 1951 by Gladys Mitchell. The Echoing Strangers is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
As I said, the story begins when Mrs. Bradley sees a middle-aged woman get pushed into the river by a young man – who then simply walks away. Mrs. Bradley and her chauffeur, George, rescue the woman who appears unusually philosophical about the whole thing. As for the young man, named Francis Caux, he turns out to be one of a set of identical twins, but – unlike his twin – he is apparently unable to speak or hear as a result of a severe shock received when he was a child: his parents were killed in a car crash which he survived. The young man, Francis Caux, has essentially been disowned by his grandfather/guardian, Sir Adrian Caux, who dotes on the other twin, Derek Caux. Sir Adrian is described this way:
"A man in what appeared to be the middle of middle age, although it turned out later that he was sixty-three. He was stoutish and florid, with the profile of a cruel man and the full face of a self-indulgent one."
Sir Adrian is fanatical about the game of cricket (at which he cheats), and non-cricket playing readers (myself included) may find themselves at something of a loss trying to interpret the rules of this complex game.
At any rate, a murder is soon discovered, and Mrs. Bradley becomes very interested indeed in the psychological peculiarities on display among the members of the Caux family. The Echoing Strangers is one of those mysteries where the murderer is revealed fairly early on, and the fascination comes in watching Mrs. Bradley search for ways to bring the crimes home to the perpetrators while trying to avoid still more deaths.
I realize that I’m not telling you much about the plot – it’s a fine Golden Age mixture of clues and misdirection, with a lot of speculation about one crime where virtually everyone has some kind of alibi…and another murder with very bizarre clues indeed. I think fans of Mrs. Bradley will enjoy it very much.