"Speedy Death" has everything a comfortable British mystery should have: Chayning Court, a country estate with an Upstairs and Downstairs abounding in suspects or victims with Woodhousian names like Alistair Bing, Bertie Philipson, Everard Mountjoy and Baxter the Butler; weddings and funerals as required and lines like "Have you taken leave of your senses, boy?"; motives, financial and romantic; weapons, including a gun, a knife and a bathtub; prowlings in the night; shattered glass; eavesdropping, and a worldly sleuth (abetted by an upwardly mobile chauffeur) who sees everything and can tell a clue from a herring: "The door unlocked and the window opened?"
So here's "The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries," some 66 of which were written by Gladys Mitchell, who died in 1983 after a career that rivaled Agatha Christie's for prolific longevity. In the first of her efforts to be celebrated by "Mystery," her sleuth, Adela Bradley, famous for catching the Bombay poisoner and the blackmailer of Belgrave Square, is played by none other than Diana Rigg, Madame Mystery herself. Dame Diana, in a designer's fantasy of Jazz Age get-ups, turns in a stylish performance, marked by asides to viewers about marriage ("one of those things it's best to get over and done with early in life, like chicken pox") and other one-liners that distance her from the country-house dimwits.
The case at hand, concocted in 1929, has to do with the death of the aforementioned Mountjoy, who turns out not to be what he seems. But then hardly anybody in this household is what he or she seems.
Is Bertie a hero or a bounder? Is Eleanor a victim? Is Pamela a gold digger? What about that torn-up check? And what are we to make of that seemingly stolen necklace? You will not be astonished to learn that, as Mrs. Bradley announces, "Someone in this house" pause "is a murderer." (Nobody believes the butler did it.)
The period production canters right along. The entire cast keeps tongue in cheek even while dining and drinking, which is evidently what inmates of those big houses mainly do or did. And the tunes, circa "You're the Cream in My Coffee," keep toes tapping when they are not treading into forbidden bedrooms. While Mrs. Bradley is sleuthing, the flappers and their dates occupy themselves by showing off Charleston steps to "Let's Misbehave." Be assured, several of them need no such encouragement.