My Book Notes: Murder in the Maze, 1927 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery book #1) by J. J. Connington

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 2012. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 704KB. Print Length: 240 pages. ASIN: B00AES04VS. ISBN: 978-1-4719-0592-6. With an introduction by Curtis Evans, 2013.

51izxtjZRWLBook Description: When twin brothers Roger and Neville Shandon are murdered by poisoned darts in Whistlefield’s famous hedge maze, Sir Clinton Driffield arrives to restore order. He finds two terrified witnesses – visitors to the estate – and clues aplenty in this brilliantly conceived and meticulously realized country-house mystery.

From the Introduction by Curt Evans: “After both Roger and Neville Shandon are felled in Whistlefield’s famous hedge maze by curare-tipped darts, Sir Clinton [Driffield] arrives to restore order at this fractious country estate. Sir Clinton’s performance as a criminal investigator is dazzlingly acute and the novel boasts several bravura scenes, all centering on the sinister hedge maze of death. Surely Murder in the Maze is one of the very finest country house mysteries produced by a British detective novelist in the 1920s. . . . No less a literary figure than T. S. Eliot praised Murder in the Maze in The Criterion for its plot construction . . . and its narrative liveliness . . . deeming it ‘a really first-rate detective story.’ . . . [I]n his 1946 critical essay, ‘The Grandest Game in the World,’ the great locked room detective author John Dickson Carr echoed Eliot’s assessment of the novel’s virtuoso setting, writing: ‘These 1920s . . . thronged with sheer brains. What would be one of the best possible settings for violent death? J. J. Connington found the answer, with Murder in the Maze.'”

My Take: Murder in the Maze is J. J. Connington’s third novel, the first one featuring Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable of a fictitious county, who will appear again in some other sixteen novels published between 1927 and 1947. The story has all the main ingredients of a typical Golden Age mystery: the setting, a country house; a seemingly inexplicable crime; a moderately limited number of suspects; and a main detective with a loyal sidekick, that serves him as counterpoint during the investigation.

The story takes place in Whistlefield, a country estate famous for its complex double-maze – a hedge maze with two centres, the property of Roger Shandon, an adventurer who amassed a vast fortune during his youth in South Africa and South America. When the story begins Neville Shandon, a famous barrister and Roger’s twin brother, is spending a weekend at Whistlefield, while preparing himself for an important case that awaits him next week. Other family members present during the story are Ernest, the Shandons’ younger brother who lives thanks to the material support of his older siblings; Sylvia and Arthur Hawkhurst, the Shandons’ nephews; Vera Forrest and Howard Torrence, Sylvia’s friends; Mr Stennes, Roger Shandon’s efficient secretary; Dr Ardsley, a medical neighbour expert in toxicology; and someone called Costock, who was prowling in the vicinity. The discovery of the corpses of the two brothers by the two guests Vera Forrest and Howard Torrence, will trigger the investigation.

The discovery of the two corpses is superbly well written, recreating the atmosphere of panic and claustrophobia that can be experienced if one gets trapped in a maze. The dialogues are witty and there are, in abundance, touches of humour, false leads and different motives for having committed the two crimes. Perhaps nowadays the answer to who done it (whodunnit) may seem to us all too apparent, but in any case, I found the resolution to the case quite interesting, original and even brilliant in view of the epoch in which it was written. I do believe we should not judge this story under today’s perspective to fully appreciate its significance when it was first published, and it can help us to realise how times have change.  

That said, Murder in the Maze is the second book by J. J. Connington I’ve read. You can find my notes on The Castleford Conundrum, 1932 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #8) here. If my information is correct he wrote seventeen Sir Clinton Driffield Mysteries in total. I look forward to reading the following books in the series: Mystery at Lynden Sands, 1928 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #3); The Case with Nine Solutions , 1928 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #4); The Sweepstake Murders, 1931 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #7); In Whose Dim Shadow, 1935 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #10, published in the US as The Tau Cross Mystery); No Past is Dead, 1942 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #15); and Jack-in-the-Box, 1944 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery #16). Stay tuned.

My Rating: A (I loved it).

About the Author: Alfred Walter Stewart (1880 – 1947), who wrote under the pen name J. J. Connington, was born in Glasgow, the youngest of three sons of Reverend Dr Stewart. He graduated from Glasgow University and pursued an academic career as a chemistry professor, working for the Admiralty during the First World War. Known for his ingenious and carefully worked-out puzzles and in-depth character development, he was admired by a host of his better-known contemporaries, including Dorothy L. Sayers and John Dickson Carr, who both paid tribute to his influence on their work. He married Jessie Lily Courts in 1916 and they had one daughter.

Murder in the Maze has been reviewed, among others, at My Reader’s Block, Mysteries Ahoy! Classic Mysteries, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Countdown John’s Christie Journal, gadetection, At the Scene of the Crime, Beneath the Stains of Time, Vintage Pop Fiction.

Alfred Walter Stewart, alias J. J. Connington at The Passing Tramp.

The Orion Group publicity page

J. J. Connington, at The Orion Books

Thriftbooks publicity page

Gadetection

The Passing Tramp

Asesinato en el laberinto de J. J. Connington

Sinopsis: La finca de Whistlefield es famosa no solo por su belleza, sino también por el laberinto vegetal que diseñaron sus primeros propietarios. El recorrido, delimitado por altos setos que se entrecruzan en caminos sin salida o que regresan al punto de partida, conduce a dos centros distintos en los que un cómodo banco recompensa a quienes logran alcanzar la meta. Y es allí donde, en una calurosa tarde de verano, aparecen los cuerpos sin vida de Roger Shandon —el dueño de la heredad— y de Neville —su hermano gemelo y conocido abogado—, ambos asesinados con la misma arma: un dardo impregnado de curare. Dado que todos los miembros de la familia, los únicos capaces de orientarse en el laberinto, parecen tener una sólida coartada, serán necesarias una mirada aguda y una inquebrantable profesionalidad para averiguar quién ha cometido el extraño doble crimen. Cualidades que, inteligentemente disimuladas bajo una apariencia anodina, el jefe de policía Sir Clinton Driffield posee en extraordinaria medida. (Siruela)

Curt Evans escribe en su introducción: “Después de que tanto Roger como Neville Shandon son derribados en el famoso laberinto vegetal de Whistlefield por dardos impregnados de curare en su punta, Sir Clinton [Driffield] llega para restablecer el orden en esta insólita finca. La actuación de Sir Clinton como investigador criminal es increiblemente aguda y la novela tiene varias escenas brillantes, todas alrededor del siniestro laberinto mortal. Seguramente, Asesinato en el laberinto es uno de los mejores misterios de casa de campo escritos por un novelista policiaco británico en la década de 1920. . . . Nada menos que una figura literaria como T. S. Eliot elogió Asesinato en el laberinto en The Criterion por la construcción de su trama. . . y por la vitalidad de su relato. . . considerándolo “un relato policiaco realmente excelente”. . . . [E]n en su ensayo crítico de 1946, The Grandest Game in the World, el gran autor policiaco de misterios en cuartos cerrados, John Dickson Carr refleja la valoración de Eliot sobre el marco magistral de la novela, escribiendo: “Estos años veinte. . . rebosantes de auténticos cerebros. ¿Cuál podría ser el mejor de los escenarios posibles para una muerte violenta? J. J. Connington encontró la respuesta, en Asesinato en el laberinto“.

Mi opinión: Asesinato en el laberinto es la tercera novela de J. J. Connington, la primera protagonizada por Sir Clinton Driffield, jefe de policía de un condado ficticio, que aparecerá nuevamente en otras dieciséis novelas publicadas entre 1927 y 1947. La historia tiene todos los ingredientes fundamentales de un misterio típico de la Edad de Oro: el escenario, una casa de campo; un crimen aparentemente inexplicable; un número moderadamente limitado de sospechosos; y un detective principal con un compañero leal, que le sirve como contrapunto durante la investigación.

La historia tiene lugar en Whistlefield, una finca rural famosa por su complejo doble laberinto: un laberinto vegetal con dos centros, propiedad de Roger Shandon, un aventurero que acumuló una gran fortuna durante su juventud en Sudáfrica y Sudamérica. Cuando comienza la historia, Neville Shandon, un famoso abogado y hermano gemelo de Roger, está pasando un fin de semana en Whistlefield, mientras se prepara para un caso importante que le espera la próxima semana. Otros miembros de la familia presentes durante la historia son Ernest, el hermano menor de los Shandon que vive gracias al apoyo material de sus hermanos mayores; Sylvia y Arthur Hawkhurst, los sobrinos de los Shandon; Vera Forrest y Howard Torrence, amigos de Sylvia; el señor Stennes, el eficiente secretario de Roger Shandon; el doctor Ardsley, un médico vecino experto en toxicología; y alguien llamado Costock, que rondaba por los alrededores. El descubrimiento de los cadáveres de los dos hermanos por parte de los dos invitados Vera Forrest y Howard Torrence, desencadenará la investigación.

El descubrimiento de los dos cadáveres está excelentemente escrito, recreando la atmósfera de pánico y claustrofobia que se puede experimentar si uno queda atrapado en un laberinto. Los diálogos son ingeniosos y hay, en abundancia, toques de humor, pistas falsas y diferentes motivos para haber cometido los dos crímenes. Quizás hoy en día la respuesta a quién lo hizo (whodunnit) nos parezca demasiado evidente, pero en cualquier caso, la resolución del caso me pareció bastante interesante, original e incluso brillante en vista de la época en que fue escrita. Creo que no debemos juzgar esta historia bajo la perspectiva de hoy para apreciar plenamente su importancia cuando se publicó por primera vez, y puede ayudarnos a darnos cuenta de cómo han cambiado los tiempos.

Dicho esto, Asesinato en el laberinto es el segundo libro de J. J. Connington que he leído. Puede encontrar mis notas sobre The Castleford Conundrum, 1932 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 8) aquí. Si mi información es correcta, escribió diecisiete misterios protagonizados por Sir Clinton Driffield en total. Espero con interés leer los siguientes libros de esta serie: Mystery at Lynden Sands, 1928 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 3); The Case with Nine Solutions , 1928 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 4); The Sweepstake Murders, 1931 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 7); In Whose Dim Shadow, 1935 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 10, publicado en los Estados Unidos como The Tau Cross Mystery); No Past is Dead, 1942 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 15); y Jack-in-the-Box, 1944 (Sir Clinton Driffield Mystery # 16). Manténganse al tanto.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: J. J. Connington es el seudónimo de Alfred Walter Stewart, nacido en 1880 en Glasgow, Reino Unido y fallecido en 1947. Después de asistir a Glasgow High School , ingresó en la Universidad de Glasgow , donde se graduó en 1902, y se especializó en química. Su destacada actuación le valió la beca Mackay-Smith. ó su vida, como investigador y docente, al estudio de la Química en distintas universidades. En 1909, Stewart fue nombrado profesor de Química Orgánica en la Queen’s University de Belfast y en 1914 fue nombrado profesor de Química Física y Radiactividad en la Universidad de Glasgow. Durante la Primera Guerra Mundial , trabajó para el Almirantazgo. En 1918 llamó la atención sobre el resultado de un cambio de partículas beta en un elemento radiactivo y sugirió el término isobar como complementario al isótopo. Se retiró de su trabajo académico en 1944 después de problemas cardíacos recurrentes. Actualmente, Stewart es recordado principalmente por su primera novela, Nordenholt’s Million (1923), una novela de catástrofes ecológica temprana en la que las bacterias desnitrificantes, contrarias al crecimiento de las plantas, se vuelven locas y destruyen la agricultura mundial. El epónimo Norócrata construye un refugio para los pocos elegidos en Escocia, fortificando el valle de Clyde . La novela es similar en espíritu a historias de desastres como Philip Wylie y When Worlds Collide de Edwin Balmer (1933) y anticipa el tema de The Death of Grass (1956) de John Christopher . Como autor de novelas policíacas creó varios detectives de ficción, entre ellos el superintendente Ross y el jefe de policía Sir Clinton Driffield. Sus novelas fueron admiradas por algunos de sus más ilustres contemporáneos, como Dorothy L. Sayers y John Dickson Carr.

My Book Notes: Green for Danger, 1944 (Inspector Cockrill #2) by Christianna Brand

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

HarperCollins Publishers, 1981. Format: Paperback Edition. 256 pages. ISBN: 9780060805517. First published in 1944.

1024749._SY475_ (1)Author’s Note: It will be apparent (I hope) that I could not have attempted the background of this story unless I had had some acquaintance with the inside working of a military hospital; and it must surely be equally obvious that, under the circumstances, I would do all in my power to avoid portraying any one particular hospital. All such institutions, however, must have operating theatres and wards and corridors, and be staffed by Royal Army Medical Corps officers, by Sisters and by Voluntary Aid Detachments, just as all characters must have a nose and two eyes and a mouth with a very limited choice of colouring for their heir and complexion. I do implore my readers, therefore, not to be more clever than their author, and see portraits where, quite honestly, none are intended. C.B.

Btw, Sister, in this context, doesn’t refer to a member of a religious order but to a head nurse of a ward, and V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachments), if you don’t know, were the young women who came in from every walk of life, go a little bit of training and worked as nurses.

Back Cover Blurb: An English military hospital, frantically coping with the onslaught of the blitz, discovers it must contend with another more cunning enemy within. While sirens scream and Nazi bombers roar overhead and wreak havoc outside, an insidious terror grips the staff inside as a very subtle murder is committed on the operating table –in full view of seven people. Inspector Cockrill, confined to the hospital by yet another air raid, must duel with a ruthless and clever killer waging his own private war. . .

My Take: The story takes place at Heron’s Park, three miles out of Heronsford, in Kent, during World War II. Heron’s Park had been a children’s sanatorium before the war, now it’s been hurriedly reconverted into a military hospital. In the first chapter, the victim and main suspects are introduced to the reader. The victim is one Joseph Higgins, a postman who happens to be also an air raid warden during the blitz. The plot actually begins when Higgins, injured by a bomb blast, is admitted to the hospital. His condition is nothing serious, but the next morning he dies while he is having a routine surgery to fix his broken leg. Everything indicates his death was accidental. However, to avoid the spreading of false rumours, Inspector Cockrill is called in to investigate the case. The matter would have been considered as a mere routine, were it not for the fact that, due to a blitz notice, Inspector Cockrill finds himself obliged to spend the night in the hospital. That is when, the next morning, one of the nurses that was present during the operation, is found dead, stabbed two times in the thorax, in the operating theatre. It also happens that the previous night, during a party, this nurse after having drink more of what would have been prudent, proclaimed to everyone who wanted to hear her that Higgins’ death was not accidental and that she had the proof to  demonstrate it. This is when Inspector Cockrill becomes aware that, besides Captain Barnes who administered the anaesthetic, there were only six people in the hospital who had anything to do with Higgins. Only six people knew he was there, and one of them now had been also murdered.

Green for Danger is perhaps Christianna Brand most widely known novel, both for its intricate plot as for having been taken to the big screen in the homonymous 1946 film directed and adapted by Sidney Gilliat, and starring Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray and Rosamund John. Anyway, it is a good place to begin familiarising oneself with the Christianna Brand’s detective novels, as is my case or, at least, that’s what has seemed to me. The story may well served as an example of what is meant by fair play. Besides Brand provides us a living portrait of how everyday life unfolded during the blitz. But, perhaps, the most notably aspects of this novel are a perfectly crafted plot, a flawless narrative, and a superb characterization. Frankly, you won’t get disappointed if you haven’t yet read it.

Green for Danger has been reviewed, among others, at A Penguin a week, A Work in Progress, In So Many Words, Only Detect, Crimepieces, Bitter Tea and Mystery, Col’s Criminal Library, The Green Capsule, Clothes In Books, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Past Offences, Tipping My Fedora, gadetection and Classic Mysteries.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the Author: Christianna Brand (December 17, 1907 – March 11, 1988) was a crime writer and children’s author. Brand also wrote under the pseudonyms Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland, and China Thomson. She was born Mary Christianna Milne in 1907 in Malaya but spent most of her childhood in England and India. She had a number of different occupations, including model, dancer, shop assistant and governess. Her first novel, Death in High Heels, was written while Brand was working as a salesgirl, the idea stemming from her fantasies about doing away with an annoying co-worker. In 1941, one of her best-loved characters, Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police, made his debut in the book Heads You Lose. The character would go on to appear in seven of her novels. Green for Danger is Brand’s most famous novel. The whodunit, set in a World War 2 hospital, was adapted for film by Eagle-Lion Films in 1946, starring Alastair Sim as the Inspector. Immediately after the War, she was elected a member of The Detection Club.  She dropped the series in the late 1950s and concentrated on various genres as well as short stories. She was nominated three times for Edgar Awards: for the short stories “Poison in the Cup” (EQMM, Feb. 1969) and “Twist for Twist” (EQMM, May 1967) and for a nonfiction work about a Scottish murder case, Heaven Knows Who (1960). She is the author of the children’s series Nurse Matilda, which Emma Thompson adapted to film as Nanny McPhee (2005). Her Inspector Cockrill short stories and a previously unpublished Cockrill stage play were collected as The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from inspector Cockrill’s Casebook, edited by Tony Medawar (2002). Christianna Brand served on the Committee of the Crime Writers’ Association, CWA, and was Chair from 1972-1973. At this stage I’m very much interested in reading the following books in Inspector Cockrill series:  Death of Jezebel, 1948 (Inspector Cockrill #4); London Particular (a.k.a. Fog of Doubt), 1952 (Inspector Cockrill #5); and Tour De Force, 1955 (Inspector Cockrill #6). I’ve been able to get copies of the last two but, regretfully, Death of Jezebel, 1948 is only available at ridiculous high prices. I can’t understand how come an ebook edition is out of print. Can someone explain it to me?

Mysterious Press publicity page

Christianna Brand at The British Police Detective 

La muerte espera en Herons Park, de Christianna Brand

Nota de la autora: Resultará evidente (espero) que no podría haber abordado el marco de esta historia de no estar familiarizada con el funcionamiento interno de un hospital militar, y sin duda será igualmente obvio que, dadas las circunstancias, he querido hacer todo lo que estuviera en mi mano para no retratar ninguno en concreto. Este tipo de instituciones tienen todas, sin embargo, quirófanos, distintas salas y pasillos y cuentan entre su personal con oficiales del Cuerpo Médico del Ejército, enfermeras y voluntarias, del mismo modo que todos los personajes han de tener nariz, boca y ojos, con un rango muy limitado de rasgos y peinados. Por eso ruego a los lectores que no traten de ser más perspicaces que la autora y ver retratos reales donde, con sinceridad, ninguno se ha concebido con esa intención. C. B. (Traducción de Raquel G. Rojas)

Sinopsis: Mientras los misiles alemanes V-1 llueven sobre la campiña inglesa, el personal del hospital militar de Herons Park lucha por mantener la normalidad. La mañana siguiente a un ataque aéreo, el doctor Barnes se prepara para una intervención rutinaria: recomponer la pierna rota de un cartero. Pero antes de hacer siquiera la primera incisión, el paciente fallece a causa de la anestesia. Cuando el forense solicita una investigación, será el inspector Cockrill quien, abriéndose paso entre en una maraña de envidias y resentimientos, se enfrente a seis posibles culpables: tres médicos y tres enfermeras, todos sin ningún motivo aparente para desear una muerte que no tardará mucho en dejar de ser la única…
La muerte espera en Herons Park es sin duda la novela más famosa de su autora y una de las grandes obras maestras del género. En 1946, sería llevada al cine en la que, según la crítica especializada, es una de las mejores adaptaciones a la gran pantalla de un clásico de la novela policiaca. (Ed. Siruela)

Mi opinión: La historia tiene lugar en Herons Park, a tres millas de Heronsford, en Kent, durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Herons Park había sido un sanatorio para niños antes de la guerra, ahora se ha reconvertido rápidamente en un hospital militar. En el primer capítulo, la víctima y los principales sospechosos son presentados al lector. La víctima es un tal Joseph Higgins, un cartero que resulta ser también un vigilante durante las  incursiones aéreas de los bombardeos nazis. La trama en realidad comienza cuando Higgins, herido por la explosión de una bomba, ingresa en el hospital. Su condición no es nada grave, pero a la mañana siguiente muere mientras se somete a una cirugía de rutina para reparar su pierna rota. Todo indica que su muerte fue accidental. Sin embargo, para evitar la difusión de rumores falsos, se llama al inspector Cockrill para investigar el caso. El asunto habría sido considerado como una mera rutina, si no fuera por el hecho de que, debido al aviso de un bombardeo, el inspector Cockrill se ve obligado a pasar la noche en el hospital. Es entonces cuando, a la mañana siguiente, una de las enfermeras que estuvo presente durante la operación, es encontrada muerta, apuñalada dos veces en el tórax, en el quirófano. También sucede que la noche anterior, durante una fiesta, esta enfermera después de haber bebido más de lo que habría sido prudente, proclamó a todos los que querían escucharla que la muerte de Higgins no fue accidental y que tenía la prueba para demostrarlo. Es entonces cuando el inspector Cockrill se da cuenta de que, además del Capitán Barnes que administró el anestésico, solo había seis personas en el hospital que tenían algo que ver con Higgins. Solo seis personas sabían que él estaba allí, y una de ellas ahora también había sido asesinada.

Green for Danger es quizás la novela más conocida de Christianna Brand, tanto por su intrincada trama como por haber sido llevada a la gran pantalla en la película homónima de 1946 dirigida y adaptada por Sidney Gilliat, y protagonizada por Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray y Rosamund John. De todos modos, es un buen lugar para comenzar a familiarizarse con las novelas de detectives de Christianna Brand, como es mi caso o, al menos, eso es lo que me ha parecido. La historia bien puede servir como un ejemplo de lo que se entiende por juego limpio. Además, Brand nos ofrece un retrato vivo de cómo se desarrollaba la vida cotidiana durante el bombardeo nazi. Pero, quizás, los aspectos más notables de esta novela son una trama perfectamente elaborada, una narración impecable y una caracterización excelente. Francamente, no le decepcionará si aún no la ha leído.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Christianna Brand (17 de diciembre de 1907 – 11 de marzo de 1988)  fue un escritora británica de novelas policíacas e infantiles. Brand también escribió bajo los seudónimos Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland y China Thomson. Nació como Mary Christianna Milne, en la Malasia británica y pasó la mayor parte de su infancia en Inglaterra e India. Tuvo varias ocupaciones diferentes, incluyendo modelo, bailarina, dependiente de tienda e institutriz. Su primera novela, Death in High Heels, la escribió mientras  trabajaba como vendedora, surgiendo su idea de sus fantasías de eliminar a un molesto compañero de trabajo. El Inspector Cockrill de la Policía de Condado de Kent, apareció por primera vez en el libro Heads You Lose en 1941, siendo uno de sus más apreciados personajes. Este personaje aparecería posteriormente en otras siete de sus novelas. Brand interrumpió la serie al final de los años 1950s y se concentró en otros géneros e historias cortas. La novela más famosa protagonizada por Cockrill, es Green for Danger, traducido como La muerte Verde (Luis de Caralt, 1956) y como La muerte espera en Herons Park (Siruela 2017). Esta obra fue adaptada al cine por Eagle-Lion Films en 1946, protagonizada por Alastair Sim como el Inspector. Inmediatamente después de la Guerra, fue elegida miembro del Detection Club. Fue candidata en tres ocasiones a los Premios Edgar: por el relato corto “Poison in the Cup” (EQMM, feb. 1969), por “Twist for Twist” (EQMM, mayo 1967) y por una obra de no ficción sobre un caso de un asesinato escocés, Heavens Knows Who (1960). Brand es también la autora de la serie de cuentos para niños la enfermera Matilda, adaptada al cine por Emma Thompson en la película Nanny McPhee (2005). Christianna Brand formó parte del Comité de la CWA, y fue su Presidente entre 1972-1973. En esta etapa, estoy muy interesado en leer los siguientes libros de la serie del Inspector Cockrill: Death of Jezebel, 1948 (Inspector Cockrill # 4); London Particular (también conocido como Fog of Doubt), 1952 (Inspector Cockrill # 5); y Tour De Force, 1955 (Inspector Cockrill # 6). He podido conseguir ejemplares de los dos últimos, pero, lamentablemente, Death of Jezebel, 1948 solo está disponible a precios ridículamente altos. No puedo entender por qué una edición en libro electrónico está agotada. ¿Alguien me lo puede explicar?

Ediciones Siruela página de publicidad

Christianna Brand (1907-1988)

christianna-brandChristianna Brand (1907-1988) was one of the most popular authors of the Golden Age of British mystery writing. Born Mary Christianna Milne in Malaya and raised in India, Brand used her experience as a salesgirl as inspiration for her first novel, Death in High Heels (1941), which she based on a fantasy of murdering an irritating coworker. The same year, she debuted her most famous character, Inspector Cockrill, whose adventures she followed until 1957. The film version of the second Cockrill mystery, Green For Danger, is considered one of the best ever screen adaptations of a classic English mystery. Besides mysteries, Brand had success writing children’s fiction. Her Nurse Matilda series, about a grotesque nanny who tames ill-behaved children, was adapted for the screen in 2005, as Nanny McPhee. Brand received two Edgar nominations for the short stories “Twist For Twist” (1967) and “Poison in the Cup” (1969), as well as one for the non-fiction work Heaven Knows Who (1960). The author of more than two dozen novels, she died in 1988.

“You have to reach for the greatest of the Great Names (Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen) to find Christianna Brand’s rivals in the subtleties of the trade.” – Anthony Boucher, New York Times

“One of the great masters of English detective fiction.” — Francis M. Nevins, author of Cornell Woolrich

“[Brand] was ready to jig endlessly with her pieces, to reject and replace until there was not a single gap that her reader would detect.”  — H.R.F. Keating, author of Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books.

Noah Stewart, recently passed away, wrote about Christianna Brand: “Ms. Brand is better known these days for having written the children’s books upon which the Nanny McPhee films were based, but she got her start writing mysteries. Her mysteries have always been difficult to obtain — one of them, Death of Jezebel, may take half your life to track down — but they are both delightful and nearly impossible to solve, although quite fair. (For instance, a vital clue to the solution of 1955’s Tour De Forceis displayed openly, but in the opening paragraphs of the book, an excellent piece of misdirection; by the time the information is useful, you’ve forgotten all about it.) Green For Danger was made into a brilliant film in 1946, starring Alastair Sim, and is her best-known novel. It is certainly good, and I also enjoyed Suddenly at His Residence (also published as The Crooked Wreath), London Particular (also published commonly as Fog of Doubt) and the three mentioned above. Heads you Lose and Death in High Heels, from the beginning of her career, are less successful; try not to start with them, if you can. One of the things that I find most enjoyable is that Brand has the ability to create characters who are quite realistic, and flawed, without making them stand out as being obviously guilty of the crime by dint of being the only realistic characters in the book. This set her apart from her contemporaries. Yet, the puzzles at the heart of the novels are so difficult and complex that you could never, ever guess the answers; these are mysteries that need to be solved with logic and observation, not intuition.” (Noah’s Archives)

For an introduction to Christianna Brand books, I’ve selected the following titles, thanks to the suggestions of several bloggers whose views I hold in high regard, and which I look forward to reading soon. Stay tuned.

Green for Danger, 1944  (Inspector Cockrill #2) Synopsis: As German V-1 rockets rain down on the English countryside, the men and women of the military hospitals fight to stay calm. The morning after a raid, Doctor Barnes prepares for a routine surgery to repair a postman’s broken leg. But with general anesthesia, there is always danger. Before the first incision is made, the postman turns purple. Barnes and his nurses do what they can, but the patient is dead in minutes. The coroner calls for an inquest. Barnes has a history of lost patients, and cannot afford more trouble. Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Cockrill is unimpressed by the staff at the hospital, which he finds a nest of jealousy, indiscretion, and bitterness. One of them, doctor or nurse, murdered the postman—and it won’t be long before they kill again.

Death of Jezebel, 1948 (Inspector Cockrill #4) Synopsis: Ever since she drove her best friend’s fiancé to kill himself, Isabel Drew has been nicknamed Jezebel. She is domineering, arrogant, vain—and beautiful enough to get away with it. She is starring as a princess in a medieval pageant when her past catches up to her. On tiny slips of paper, threats appear, promising death to Isabel and those around her. Fearing she may be attacked, she invites the brilliant Inspector Cockrill to keep her safe after the performance. But her precautions come too late. During the first show, Isabel falls from her tower and is dead before she hits the ground. She was strangled, and the room she fell from was locked from the inside—a crime too daring to be possible. But Inspector Cockrill saw it all, and unraveling the impossible is his specialty. 

London Particular (a.k.a. Fog of Doubt), 1952 (Inspector Cockrill #5) Synopsis: Few were disappointed when Raoul Vernet was found with his head bashed in, dead in a pool of his own blood. On vacation in England, the Belgian seducer comes to visit Matilda, an old flame from a few years before. She agrees despite suspicions that Vernet has been deploying his legendary charm on another member of the family: young Rosie, who has returned from her Swiss boarding school carrying a child. None of the family members were in the house when Raoul was killed, but all were within a fog-choked London mile. Rosie calls in the brilliant Inspector Cockrill to clear the family’s name, but what he finds is a twisted clan of seven people, each as likely to laugh at a murder as commit one.

Tour De Force, 1955 (Inspector Cockrill #6) Synopsis: From the moment he steps on the plane, Inspector Cockrill loathes his fellow travelers. They are typical tour group bores: the dullards of England whom he had hoped to escape by going to Italy. He gives up on the trip immediately, burying his nose in a mystery novel to ensure that no one tries to become his friend. But not long after the group makes landfall at the craggy isle of San Juan el Pirata, a murder demands his attention. The body of a woman is found laid out carefully on her bed, blood pooled around her and fingers wrapped around the dagger that took her life. The corrupt local police force, impatient to find a killer, names Cockrill chief suspect. To escape the Italian hangman, the detective must find out who would go on vacation to kill a stranger.

(Source: Mysterious Press)

As a Follow-up to My Book Notes: “Arson Plus” (1923) a short story by Dashiell Hammett

black-mask-23-10-1As a follow-up to my book notes: “Arson Plus” (1923) a short story by Dashiell Hammett, the following links by Todd Mason at this week Friday’s “Forgotten” Books and More, might be of your interest:

*Steve Marcus: “Arson Plus” by Dashiell Hammett (as by “Peter Collinson”)

*Terry Zobeck: “Arson Plus” by Dashiell Hammett (as by “Peter Collinson”)

Thank you Todd, much appreciated.

My Book Notes: The Case of the Crumpled Knave (1939) by Anthony Boucher

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

The Orion Publisihing Group, 2012. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 667 KB. Print Length: 144 pages. ASIN: B00934X6DM. ISBN: 978-1-4719-0318-2.

51z5XzTTnIL._SY346_Book Description: “Who’s Bluffing?” — A cryptic telegram … two ingenious and quite different sets of clues … and each of the half dozen suspects a bit of an imposter …. — It was a case that staggered the imagination of everyone involved. Until detective Fergus O’Breen began to sort out the facts. And discovered that what appeared to be fact was really fiction … and that the real truth lay behind a whimsical legend — and the body of another dead man. (Source: Goodreads)

My Take: This has been my first encounter with Anthony Boucher and it wont be the last. Boucher, except for his science fiction books, is little known in Spain. If my information is correct his only mystery book translated into Spanish was his first detective novel published as El Siete del Calvario in 1956 in Buenos Aires in El sèptimo círculo collection by Editorial Emecé, directed by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

It is also Boucher’s second detective novel, the first featuring his private investigator Fergus O’Breen. O’Breen is hired by Kay Garnett to ascertain the innocence of her fiancé, a certain Richard Vinton, who is arrested as the main suspect of the murder of Humphrey Garnett, Kay’s father, a retired research chemist. Someone poured poison into Humphrey Garnett’s drink the night before and the only clue is a crumpled playing card the deceased hold in his hand. The card in fact is the Jack of Diamonds. Garnett’s house was locked from the inside, and, the possibility that someone could have entered the house, is soon ruled out. It’s almost certain it’s been an inside job. The Garnett household, besides Kay herself, her father and her fiancé, is comprised by Humphrey’s brother-in-law, Arthur Willowe; Humphrey’s laboratory assistant, Will Harding; and Humphrey’s protégée, Camilla Sallice.

Luckily, O’Breen can count with the cooperation of Theodore Rand, an old family friend and retired US army colonel, who just shows up in the house. His presence is a result of the telegram that Humphrey Garnett sent him a few days ago with the following text: “COME TO LOS ANGELES AT ONCE, STOP. FLY IF NECESSARY STOP. YOU MAY BE INVALUABLE WITNESS AT INQUEST ON MY BODY STOP. WATCH HECTOR –H,E,C,T,O,R– CAREFULLY”.

For my taste, the novel promises more than it finally delivers. Perhaps because at the end it becomes entangled in a manner, in my view, excessive, however startling. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed its reading. I specifically liked Colonel Rand’s character. It has also many good things. Particularly a nice sense of humour and a great deal of  imagination, with which the story manages to capture the reader’s attention. It is also worth mentioning that, at various moments during the narrative, the author breaks the fourth wall. Some of the blogs attached provide several examples in their reviews. I’m looking forward to reading Nine Times Nine in a not so distant future

My Rating: B ( I liked it)

The Case of the Crumpled Knave has been reviewed, among others, at crossexaminingcrime, The Locked Room: Classic Mysteries in Review, gadetection, Beneath the Stains of Time, The Grandest Game in the World,

About the Author: Anthony Boucher (1911 –1968) born William Anthony Parker White in Oakland, California, wrote both mystery and science fiction and was a highly regarded literary critic and editor. He also wrote scripts for radio, spoke numerous languages fluently, and was the first translator into English of Jorge Luis Borges. A founding member of the Mystery Writers of America, he was one of the first winners of an Edgar Award for his mystery reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle. He also wrote short stories for, among others, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Black Mask, and Ed McBain’s Mystery Book. His iconic status was cemented when, in 1970, Bouchercon (Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention) was set up in his honour. His output in the mystery genre consists of seven detective novels: The Case of the Seven of Calvary (1937), The Case of the Crumpled Knave (1939), Nine Times Nine (1940) [only as by H. H.
Holmes], The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (1940, reprinted as Blood on Baker Street), The Case of the Solid Key (1941), Rocket to the Morgue (1942) [also as by H. H. Holmes], and The Case of the Seven Sneezes (1942), and a collections of short stories: Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher (1983) edited by Francis M. Nevins Jr and Martin H. Greenberg.

On Anthony Boucher

Boucher, Anthony at Gadetection

The Case of the Crumpled Knave de Anthony Boucher

Descripción del libro: “¿Quién está fingiendo?” – Un telegrama enigmático … un par de indicios ingeniosos y bastante diferentes … y cada uno de la media docena de sospechosos un tanto impostores … – Fue un caso que asombró la imaginación de cada uno de los involucrados. Hasta que el detective Fergus O’Breen comenzó a sortear los hechos. Y descubrió que lo que parecía ser verdad era en realidad ficción … y que la auténtica verdad estaba detrás de una leyenda extravagante, y el cuerpo sin vida de otro hombre. (Fuente: Goodreads)

Mi opinión: Este ha sido mi primer encuentro con Anthony Boucher y no será el último. Boucher, a excepción de sus libros de ciencia ficción, es poco conocido en España. Si mi información es correcta, su único libro de misterio traducido al español fue su primera novela de detectives publicada como El Siete del Calvario en 1956 en Buenos Aires en la colección El sèptimo círculo de Editorial Emecé, dirigida por Jorge Luis Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares.

También es la segunda novela de detectives de Boucher, la primera protagonizada por su investigador privado Fergus O’Breen. O’Breen es contratado por Kay Garnett para demostrar la inocencia de su prometido, un tal Richard Vinton, quien es arrestado como principal sospechoso del asesinato de Humphrey Garnett, el padre de Kay, un investigador químico retirado. Alguien vertió veneno en la bebida de Humphrey Garnett la noche anterior y la única pista es un naipe arrugado que el difunto tiene en la mano. La carta de hecho es la jota de diamantes. La casa de Garnett estaba cerrada por dentro y, pronto, se descarta la posibilidad de que alguien haya entrado en la casa. Es casi seguro que ha sido un trabajo interno. La familia Garnett, además de la propia Kay, su padre y su prometido, está compuesta por el cuñado de Humphrey, Arthur Willowe; El asistente de laboratorio de Humphrey, Will Harding; y la protegida de Humphrey, Camilla Sallice.

Afortunadamente, O’Breen puede contar con la colaboración de Theodore Rand, un viejo amigo de la familia y coronel retirado del ejército estadounidense, que acaba de aparecer en la casa. Su presencia es el resultado del telegrama que Humphrey Garnett le envió hace unos días con el siguiente texto: “VEN A LOS ÁNGELES DE INMEDIATO, STOP. VUELA SI ES NECESARIO STOP. PUEDES SER TESTIGO INDISPENSABLE EN LA INVESTIGACIÓN DE MI CADAVER STOP. VIGILA A HECTOR –H, E, C, T, O, R– CUIDADOSAMENTE”.

Para mi gusto, la novela promete más de lo que finalmente ofrece. Quizás porque al final se enreda de una manera, en mi opinión, excesiva, aunque sorprendente. No obstante, he disfrutado su lectura. Me gustó especificamente el personaje del coronel Rand. También tiene muchas cosas buenas. Particularmente un buen sentido del humor y mucha imaginación, con lo cual la historia logra captar la atención del lector. También vale la pena mencionar que, en varios momentos durante la narración, el autor rompe la cuarta pared. Algunos de los blogs adjuntos proporcionan varios ejemplos en sus reseñas. Tengo muchas ganas de leer Nine Times Nine en un futuro no muy lejano

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Anthony Boucher (1911-1968), nacido William Anthony Parker White en Oakland, California, escribió tanto misterio como ciencia ficción y fue un crítico y editor literario de gran prestigio. También escribió guiones para la radio, hablaba numerosos idiomas con fluidez y fue el primer traductor al inglés de Jorge Luis Borges. Miembro fundador de Mystery Writers of America, fue uno de los primeros ganadores de un Premio Edgar por sus reseñas de novelas de misterio en el San Francisco Chronicle. También escribió cuentos para, entre otros, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Black Mask y Ed McBain’s Mystery Book. Su estatus de icono se consolidó cuando, en 1970, Bouchercon (Convención Mundial de Misterio en Homenaje a Anthony Boucher) se instituyó en su honor. Su producción en el género de misterio consiste en siete novelas de detectives: The Case of the Seven of Calvary (1937) [El Siete del Calvario, Col. El sèptimo círculo Editorial Emecé, Buenos Aires, 1956], The Case of the Crumpled Knave (1939), Nine Times Nine (1940) [como H. H. Holmes], The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (1940, reimpreso como Blood on Baker Street), The Case of the Solid Key (1941), Rocket to the Morgue (1942) [también como H. H. Holmes], y The Case of the Seven Sneezes (1942), y una colección de relatos: Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher (1983) editado por Francis M. Nevins Jr y Martin H. Greenberg.