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?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Green for Danger – Christianna Brand

GreenForDangerJohn Dickson Carr has left me with some emotional moments – the anger followed by enlightenment at the reveal of It Walks By Night; the poignancy of the end of He Who Whispers; the shock and disbelief of The Burning Court; the haunting conclusion of She Died a Lady.  Never though, have I been so impacted as the final chapters of Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger.

I was bound to delve into non-Carr works eventually and so why not take the leap with a classic?  I’ve started to accrue a backlog of books by other authors, and the temptation to branch out proved to be too much.  My first choice would have been Brand’s The Death of Jezebel, but that title has proven itself hard to find in physical form.  My tipping point was a recent purchase of Tour de Force and Green for Danger by the same author.  I desperately wanted to read the former, but worried that it may contain some end of series reveals, I opted for the earlier work.

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