Tag: Christianna Brand

Review – Heads You Lose

Posted November 13, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose

by Christianna Brand

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 159
Series: Inspector Cockrill #1
Rating: three-stars

Pigeonsford Estate is playing host to a group of close friends when one of their number, Grace Morland, is found dead in a ditch. The murder is made even more unusual by the fact that Grace was wearing her friend Francesca's hat, the same hat that only the day before she'd claimed she wouldn't be caught dead wearing. Inspector Cockrill has known most of the friends since they were children. They are all from good families and very close to one another; how, then, could one of them be a cold-blooded killer? And if one of them had murdered Grace which one was it and why had they done it?

Heads You Lose did some very interesting things, from my point of view: the sympathy with a particular character was genuinely affecting, to me at least, and I’m noting some patterns with her work that intrigue me. As a story, though, there were a few things that bothered me. It’s a bit spoilery to go into them in depth, so I’ll just start by saying that I think in the end I’d say it was worth reading, at least for me as a fan of this period of mystery/crime fiction, but I do have caveats and content warnings to go with that.

The main caveat is the fact that the plot hinges on the oft-derived trope of a mentally ill killer, one who has blackouts and commits crimes unbeknownst to himself. That means the third-person narration is sometimes a bit unreliable, as it sticks close to particular characters’ POV, and thus misleads the reader. You have to read very closely to catch the clue, and of course you’re not looking there for it.

I did think that the ending was rather better than the “psycho killer with blackouts” trope portended. There’s a lot of pathos in the ending for that particular character and how it comes about.

I would also note that there’s a Jewish character who is treated somewhat sympathetically, and yet at the same time with some anti-Semitic tropes. Of course this was common in the crime fiction in and around the Golden Age (Dorothy L. Sayers did similar in Whose Body?), but it’s worth knowing going in.

I am noticing that Brand doesn’t do much bringing her villains to justice. They usually die in some kind of appropriate way — not in the way that some other detective novels do, with a “you should write a confession and shoot yourself, or I’ll put the police in possession of what I know”, but still, they each die. It has less of a “detective as judge and jury” ring, and more like… “the universe will put things right, somehow”. Either way, an interesting thing to note, as I read more of Brand’s work.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Suddenly At His Residence

Posted July 4, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Suddenly At His Residence by Christianna BrandSuddenly At His Residence, Christianna Brand

There’s something a little same-y about Brand’s writing, particularly between this book and Green for Danger. There are similarities in setup (the small group of suspects), the ingenious plotting to hide the crime, the interactions of the characters as they each blame and suspect the others, and of course the method of detection. Although you couldn’t map the characters one-to-one as being similar, I feel like I’d know this was one of Brand’s books. That makes sense to some degree — after all, it’s the same detective — but it produced such a similar tone and story arc that it felt a little strange to me.

One thing Brand was undeniably good at is ratcheting up the tension for the reader. So many accusations, so many jagged little edges of wounds and half-healed jealousies… and someone in the group is a killer; someone in the group is allowing the others to be suspected.

Like Green for Danger, this isn’t the most comfortable cosy read as a result. I think I liked it more, though — I got a little more interested in the characters and which of them did the crime. The ending of this is pretty harrowing, in a whole different way to Green for Danger. As there, justice is ultimately served, but not through a trial and due process; that is one of the major tropes of Golden Age crime that gives me very iffy feelings.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Green for Danger

Posted March 31, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Green for Danger by Christianna BrandGreen for Danger, Christianna Brand

Green for Danger is one of those classic crime novels that definitely doesn’t feel cosy. That’s not just because it’s set during the Second World War — writers were perfectly capable of writing normality-restoring, comforting crime fiction then; in fact, it was a great time for it. The war setting doesn’t help, though, because the unease creeps around the story: consider the fact that all the doctors have morphine to take in case they should get buried alive during a bombing.

Mostly, though, it’s the mystery itself that’s unsettling. The potential culprits are all an inner circle, a limited group, and you watch their insecurities and their foibles playing out as you suspect each in turn. Could it be this one, or that one? Could it be because of a dark past, a horrible secret? Why is one’s voice recognised by various patients? Was there something suspicious about that previous event? And there’s the detective, putting pressure on them all to make them confess…

It all ends up being very uncomfortable, because it’s a group of friends, and nobody wants to believe anyone else has done it. There’s a web of jealousies and friendships between them that doesn’t stop them wanting the best for each other — but someone is a killer.

Brand’s a good writer, but it isn’t what I typically look for when I pick up a British Library Crime Classic.

Rating: 3/5

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