Heads You Lose – Christianna Brand (1941)

HeadsYouLoseI must be a bit of an idiot.  How else could I explain walking into Heads You Lose thinking “this might be ok”?   I mean, come on – I’ve absolutely loved Christianna Brand’s mysteries up to now.  The set ups are great, yep.  The solutions are a seemingly contradictory blend of earth shattering and simply obvious.  And man, her writing…  If there’s another author with this sense of wit and the ability to craft a cast of characters, let me know.

I’ve read most of Brand’s nine mainstream mysteries (she published a handful more that for some reason fly under the radar), and aside from the elusive and enamored The Death of Jezebel, I’ve only had Heads You Lose and Death in High Heels left to go.  And so I’ve saved them; on one hand so I had some of Brand at her best left (which is somewhat of an errant thought – her lesser known books have been excellent), but also because I had the impression that some reviewers had lesser impressions of these early books.  Yeah, I realize there’s a bit of a contradiction there.

Continue reading “Heads You Lose – Christianna Brand (1941)”

Heaven Knowns Who – Christianna Brand (1960)

HeavenKnowsWhoOk, well, I finally did it.  I hit a wall with my Christianna Brand reading.  It was inevitable I suppose, although I liked to think it wouldn’t happen.  You see, with only three of Brand’s widely recognized mysteries left, I’ve been all to happy to dabble with the more obscure titles.  Why deplete my remaining stock with a book like Death in High Heels when I could explore something lesser known such as Court of Foxes or The Brides of Aberdar?  It hasn’t been a fruitless quest – it bore treasures such as The Rose in Darkness and A Ring of Roses – and for that I’m happy I took the less traveled road.

Heaven Knows Who is deservedly a lesser known Brand.  It wasn’t always so obscure, winning an Edgar Award in 1960 for “best fact crime” (or “true crime” as we would know it today).  The book seems to have since faded from the collective memory, and I can’t say that’s for no good reason.

Continue reading “Heaven Knowns Who – Christianna Brand (1960)”

Verdict of 13 (1978)

VerdictOf13I’m a big fan of Christianna Brand, considering her not only one of the best puzzle plotters of the Golden Age, but also a top writer of dialogue.  Up to this point, I’ve focused on her novels with the exception of her excellent short story Twist for Twist (which I really should get around to reviewing at some point).  Her short story collections are incredibly difficult to come by in physical form for a reasonable price, but patience has led to me snatching up Brand X and Buffet for Unwelcome Guests rather cheap.  The latter is notable for containing a bibliography towards the rear which lists out all of her short stories (the contents of which seems to have lately made its way to wikipedia).  While skimming through the list of short stories, it caught my eye that a dozen or so weren’t included in any of the Brand short story collections.  It’s the uncollected story Cloud Nine that led me to Verdict of 13.

This anthology was assembled by Julian Symons, who at the time was the president of the famed Detection Club.  Each story within the anthology was written by a member of the club specifically for the anthology, as opposed to this being a collection of pre-existing works.  That makes this an interesting collection, as you’re getting original stories by names as notable of Symons, Brand, Michael Gilbert, Michael Innes, and Ngaio Marsh.  Most of these stories have been published in other collections since, although three seem to still be exclusively available here.

Continue reading “Verdict of 13 (1978)”

A Ring of Roses – Christianna Brand (1977)

RingOfRosesA Ring of Roses is one of those late career Brand mystery novels that seemingly goes unmentioned in favor of her more well known Inspector Cockrill series (the last of which, Tour de Force, was published in 1955).  I’ve always been curious about these later books – are they just not that good?  Are they not really mysteries?  Or are they simply a bit hard to find?

Well, I can vouch that they are a bit hard to find.  Both A Ring of Roses (1977) and The Rose in Darkness (1979) took some footwork to track down.  Unlike Brand’s earlier work, there aren’t that many editions of either book and they were released late enough in her career that I’m willing to bet they were smaller runs.  A Ring of Roses was originally released as a paperback (a copy of which I’ve never seen available) under the name of Mary Anne Ashe.  You may recall that Brand published one other book under this name – the historical romance/mystery Alas, for Her That Met Me.  A Ring of Roses was almost immediately republished as a hardback bearing Brand’s name.

Continue reading “A Ring of Roses – Christianna Brand (1977)”

The Rose in Darkness – Christianna Brand (1979)

RoseInDarkness“The rose in darkness: with the last darkness, closing, closing in.”

Wow.  Just wow.  If I were to claim that The Rose in Darkness has Christianna Brand’s best ending, I’d probably be wrong.  Hell, I’d probably find myself combatting an alternate version of myself.  Between the “I’m going to lie in bed for two weeks crying” conclusion of Green for Danger, the shocking final sentence reveal amidst the blitzkrieg that is Suddenly at His Residence, the slow sickening realization of Fog of Doubt, the jaw on the floor finale of Tour de Force, or even the rat-tat-tat neck-twisting ending of Cat and Mouse, Christianna Brand has paved a trail of stomach punch endings.  In that respect alone, she may be amongst the best of the golden age.

Still, excuse the enthusiasm of my still shell shocked mind as I rave with fan boy enthusiasm that The Rose in Darkness features one of Brand’s most powerful endings.  Of course, I’m not going to tell you any actual details about the ending, other than it was like watching a slow cascade of dominos without actually grasping how the remaining ones would fall.  Oh, and it’s one of those emotional ones that will stick with you – but again, most of Brand’s do.

Continue reading “The Rose in Darkness – Christianna Brand (1979)”

Cat and Mouse – Christianna Brand (1950)

CatAndMouseCat and Mouse is a bit of an off the radar Christianna Brand novel from what I’ve seen.  Most reviews focus entirely on the well know Inspector Cockrill series – Heads You Lose, Green for Danger, Suddenly at His Residence, Death of Jezebel, Fog of Doubt, and Tour de Force – with the occasional review of Death in High Heels (one of Brand’s first novels).  That’s odd to me, since 1. Everything I’ve read by Christianna Brand so far is an absolute classic  2. Brand wrote more than an equal number of non-Cockrill mystery novels.

So what’s the deal?  Why do people only talk about the Cockrill novels?  Are the rest garbage or have they simply been less obtainable?  I’ve started to explore that question already with my review of Alas, For Her That Met Me! (published under the name of Mary Ann Ashe).  While I wouldn’t categorize that novel as a traditional mystery, it had enough of the elements that I think fans of at least John Dickson Carr’s historical mysteries would appreciate.

Continue reading “Cat and Mouse – Christianna Brand (1950)”

Suddenly at His Residence – Christianna Brand (1947)

SuddenlyAtHisResidenceI’ll always tout Christianna Brand as an author who can deliver an emotional blow.  Green for Danger, Fog of Doubt – even less known books like Alas for Her Who Met Me – all have a way to draw you in to the lives of a cast of characters.  Perhaps it’s her informal turn of the phrase, but the characters feel real in a familiar sense, rather than sketches on the page from 70 year ago.  The denouement comes as a punch to the gut, as real lives crumble, and a person you’ve empathized with is unmasked as the killer.

While that ability to trigger real emotion is the trait of Brand that stands out most clearly to me, she may well be among the most skilled in the field for pulling the wool over the reader’s eyes.  Her particular talent seems to be dangling a clue repeatedly in the readers face, to the point where the final solution to the puzzle comes as a natural, yet shocking realization.  John Dickson Carr certainly had this talent too, but Brand in particular excels in inflicting a sense of “damn, how didn’t I see that coming the entire time?

Continue reading “Suddenly at His Residence – Christianna Brand (1947)”

Alas For Her That Met Me! – Christianna Brand as Mary Ann Ashe (1976)

AlasForHerFear not – I haven’t abandoned my focus on GAD mysteries and impossible crime in exchange for 1970’s romance novels (well, not that I’m admitting…).  Alas For Her That Met Me! is a late career novel by my personal Queen of Crime, Christianna Brand.  Yes, the cover and the title may have you scratching your head, but I assure you there’s a reason behind this madness.

I’ve absolutely loved the Brand books that I’ve read so far.  The author has a wit to her writing, a strange ability to forge a bond between the reader and her characters, and one of the most skilled hands at misdirection that I’ve yet to encounter.  Unfortunately, she only wrote 10 murder mysteries – or so I’ve been told.  I’ve found it difficult to really piece Brand’s career together, with the best reference I’ve been able to find being Wikipedia (never a good sign…).  There’s the Inspector Cockrill series, for which she’s known, and then a handful of lesser known mystery novels featuring Inspector Chucky and Inspector Charlesworth – of those, only Death in High Heels really garners any attention.  Brand seems to have ended her core mystery writing career in the mid-1950’s, with Tour de Force being her last “classic” title.

Continue reading “Alas For Her That Met Me! – Christianna Brand as Mary Ann Ashe (1976)”

Tour de Force – Christianna Brand (1955)

TourDeForceWhen it comes to mysteries, they call her The Queen of Hearts.  Er…, “they” being Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery.  But he’s right.  If ever an author could build a cast of suspects in such a way that the final reveal of the true culprit could be so heart-wrenching, it’s Christianna Brand.  She’s crafty too, laying key clues out in plain sight, but framing them in such a way that the reader is incapable of understanding what they’re seeing.

The trouble with Brand is that she only wrote 10 or so mystery novels (we’ll discuss the exact number later).  Of those, the most acclaimed are the big four – Green for Danger, Suddenly at His Residence (also released as The Crooked Wreath), Death of Jezebel, and Tour de Force – although I’d argue that Fog of Doubt deserves to be just as well regarded.  I’ve been excited to read Tour de Force for a while, as it’s considered by many to be one of Brand’s trickiest mysteries, and, well, the title kind of implies it’s going to be a masterpiece…

Continue reading “Tour de Force – Christianna Brand (1955)”

Fog of Doubt – Christianna Brand (1952)

London Particular

FogOfDoubtAs much as I’ll mourn my circumstances when I finish my final John Dickson Carr novel, I think I’ll be grieving my conclusion of Christianna Brand just as much.  There’s just so much to like about her as an author.  The wit, the strange rambling prose, the puzzles, the characters.  My first brush with her, Green for Danger, showed me a depth to a GAD story that I hadn’t seen before.  Yes, the impossible crime was luscious – a man murdered on an operating table in full view of a surgical team – but it was Brand’s deft handling of the characters that really made the difference.  By the end of the story, the author had created such a bond between the cast and the reader that any solution was bound to be devastating.  And it was.

Of course, Green with Danger is probably Brand’s most famous book.  How would a lesser known title fair?  I picked up Fog of Doubt (also released as London Particular) based on a comment that it featured a similarly wrenching ending.  It definitely delivered on that.

Continue reading “Fog of Doubt – Christianna Brand (1952)”