I'm not sure what I think of this. It dragged a bit in the middle, mostly as the plot was so odd. So much was crammed in that by the time I got to the end, I barely remembered the beginning. It seems like another book entirely that started with a dead man – who was really a woman – in the guest room bathtub.
But Mitchell's writing is strong and very readable. She painted a very compelling country house setting with characters that really worked well in the plot, even if they're rather 2 dimensional in that way I find all third person, golden age crime characters to be. My biggest gripe is that there is an awful lot of unspoken truths throughout the dialog. Two people talking about the murder, sharing information and one starts to reveal Something Important when the other gasps "You don't mean..." and the other cuts him off and exclaims "Exactly!". And the reader is left saying "what? what do you mean? what the hell did I miss?!"
Of them all, I liked Carstairs best; I am conflicted about Mrs. Lestrange Bradley though. I like her intelligence and her strength and I'm offended on her behalf of the way she keeps getting referred to as an ugly old lady. Mitchell gives us her age via formula, by stating that her son is 39 and she was 18 when he was born. With a bias that grows stronger every day, I hardly think 57 is an age that warrants 'ugly old lady' status. But Mitchell sacrifices a great deal of Bradley's humanity for the sake of her intelligence and strength.
This led me to an interesting personal quandary because the character she most reminded me of is my personal ideal of literary perfection: Shelock Holmes. He too is cold, calculating, analytical to the extreme, and designed to be unpleasing to the eye, so why do I find him to be the acme of literary perfection, but am left unsure, at best, about Lestrange Bradley? I was set to face some hard truths about my own gender bias, but thankfully that can be saved for another day, as the answer really is much simpler: Holmes' analytical genius is grounded in facts and hard science; Lestrange Bradley's on psycho-analysis. That is my bias; I don't condemn psychoanalysis, but neither do I trust it, and I do not find it all that interesting.
So, long story short, this is a book with merit and definitely worth reading, especially for anyone who enjoys classic crime, and Mitchell's writing is worth seeking out. I just don't know if I enjoyed it enough to pursue other books in this series.