My Book Notes: Death of Jezebel, 1948 (Inspector Cockrill #4) by Christianna Brand


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MysteriousPress.com/Open Road, 2013. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 809 KB. Print Length: 208 pages. ASIN: B00BERBMSW. ISBN: 978-1-4532-9048-4. First published in the US by Dodd, Mead, in 1948; and in the UK, by The Bodley Head, in 1949.

brand-deathjezebelSynopsis: At a medieval pageant, Inspector Cockrill investigates a dramatic death. 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.

My Take: During the celebration of a medieval pageant, Isabel Drew –an arrogant actress who used to treat everyone around her with
contempt, falls to the ground from the top of a tower, in view of the whole audience. What it may seem initially an unfortunate accident, soon it becomes murder. She was already death before hitting herself against the stage floor. In fact she’s been strangled. A few days ago, three of the participants in the medieval carrousel, Isabel Drew, Earl Anderson and Perpetua [Peppi] Kirk, had all received anonymous notes warning them they were going to be murdered. Coincidentally, Inspector Cockrill from North Kent finds himself in London attending a police conference. Peppi Kirk herself concerned about the threat received, had invited him to see the medieval carrousel as a measure of protection. Detective Inspector Charlesworth from Scotland Yard takes charge of the investigation. If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first and maybe only time Detective Inspector Charlesworth [Death in High Heels (1941) and The Rose in Darkness (1979)] and Inspector Cockrill feature together in one same novel.

‘This is not a detective novel,’ said Cockrill. ‘In real life the police don’t “reconstruct the crime” so as to confront the criminal. These writer people never get their police procedure right.’ ‘It would be so deadly dull if they did,’ said Charlesworth. ‘I suppose they reckon that their job is to entertain and not to worry too much about what could or would or couldn’t or wouldn’t have happened… After all , their books are just fun to read–not treatises on the law. However the idea of putting our lot through their paces tonight is not so much to unearth the criminal as to eliminate the impossible…’

Death of Jezebel contains one of the finest examples of an impossible crime I’ve encountered myself to date. The plot is superbly crafted, the story is extremely witty and the mystery has a brilliant solution. It also offers us a number of possible alternative solutions before reaching its final conclusion. J.F. Norris, rightly stated in 2009 that:

Brand was one of the few women mystery writers who tried her hand at multiple versions of a detective fiction convention usually more successfully handled by male writers – the locked room or impossible crime.  In her small output of only 11 detective novels four of them qualify as impossible crime mysteries and I believe there are at least two short stories with impossible crime elements.  Two of those impossible crime mysteries have been noted by a few discerning critics as landmarks of this subgenre.  Death of Jezebel easily belongs in any Top 25 list of locked room and impossible detective novels.

And Pietro De Palma who blogs at Death Can Read in his review on Goodreads:  

One of the nicest and impressive locked rooms that I have read ever.
A hypnotic locked room. A theater, a parade of horses, a whore, a vengeance, the justice who should be a knight, another rider who will not know until the end if he was empty or full armor, a crime without explanation, and a crime of which nothing is known until the end. A prequel that imagines revenge for the death of a young, summarized in three pages. A real masterpiece of one of the most skilled writers, the golden age of mystery.
A real masterpiece.

In a nutshell, an excellent book I highly recommend.

Death of Jezebel has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Clothes in Books, The Grandest Game in the World, gadetection, At the Scene of the Crime, Death Can Read, Vanished Into Thin Air, Beneath the Stains of Time, and Classic Mysteries,

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

About the Author: Christianna Brand (17 December 1907 – 11 March 1988) was a British crime writer and children’s author. Born Mary Christianna Milne (1907) in British Malaya she spent most of her childhood in England and India. She had a number of different occupations, including model, dancer, shop assistant and governess. Brand also wrote under the pseudonyms Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Brand, Mary Roland, and China Thompson. Christianna Brand served as chair of the Crime Writers’ Association from 1972 to 1973.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 II hospital, was adapted for film by Eagle-Lion Films in 1946, starring Alastair Sim as the Inspector. 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). (Source: Wikipedia)

Inspector Cockrill Series: Heads You Lose (1941); Green for Danger (1944); Suddenly at His Residence (1946); Death of Jezebel (1949); Fog of Doubt (1952); Tour de Force (1955); The Three-Cornered Halo (1957); and The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook (2002) a short-stories collection

Mysterious Press publicity page

Open Road integrated media publicity page

audible.com 

Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand – Martin Edwards

Christianna Brand at The British Police Detective

Brand, Christianna at gadetection

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, John Lane, The Bodley Head (UK), 1949)

La muerte de Jezebel (Original title: Death of Jezzbel) de Christianna Brand

Sinopsis: En una cabalgata medieval, el inspector Cockrill investiga una trágica muerte. Desde que empujó al prometido de su mejor amiga a suicidarse, Isabel Drew ha sido apodada Jezebel. Ella es dominante, arrogante, vanidosa y lo suficientemente hermosa como para salirse con la suya. Ella está protagonizando una cabalgata medieval como una princesa cuando su pasado termina por alcanzarla. En pequeños trozos de papel aparecen amenazas prometiendo la muerte de Isabel y de aquellos que la rodean. Temiendo que pueda ser atacada, invita al brillante inspector Cockrill a mantenerla a salvo después de la actuación. Pero sus precauciones llegan demasiado tarde. Durante el primer espectáculo, Isabel cae de su torre y está muerta antes de tocar el suelo. La estrangularon y la habitación desde la que cayó estaba cerrada por dentro, un crimen demasiado audaz para ser posible. Pero el inspector Cockrill lo vio todo, y resolver lo imposible es su especialidad.

Mi opinión: Durante la celebración de una cabalgata medieval, Isabel Drew, una actriz arrogante que solía tratar a todos a su alrededor con
desprecio, cae al suelo desde lo alto de una torre, a la vista de todo el público. Lo que puede parecer inicialmente un desafortunado accidente, pronto se convierte en asesinato. Ella ya estaba muerta antes de golpearse contra el piso del escenario. De hecho, ha sido estrangulada. Hace unos días, tres de los participantes en el carrusel medieval, Isabel Drew, Earl Anderson y Perpetua [Peppi] Kirk, habían recibido notas anónimas advirtiéndoles que iban a ser asesinados. Casualmente, el inspector Cockrill del norte de Kent se encuentra en Londres asistiendo a una conferencia policial. La propia Peppi Kirk, preocupada por la amenaza recibida, lo había invitado a ver el carrusel medieval como medida de protección. El inspector detective Charlesworth de Scotland Yard se hace cargo de la investigación. Si no me equivoco, esta será la primera y tal vez la única vez que el inspector detective Charlesworth [Death in High Heels (1941) y The Rose in Darkness (1979)] y el inspector Cockrill aparecen juntos en una misma novela.

“Esta no es una novela de detectives”, dijo Cockrill. “En la vida real, la policía no ‘reconstruye el crimen’ para hacer frente al criminal.” “Estos escritores nunca aciertan con su procedimiento policial.” “Sería tremendamente aburrido si lo hicieran”, dijo Charlesworth. ‘Supongo que creen que su trabajo es entretener y no preocuparse demasiado por lo que podría o no hubiera podido haber sucedido… Después de todo, sus libros son solo una lectura divertida, no tratados sobre la ley. Sin embargo, la idea de poner a prueba a nuestro grupo esta noche no ha sido tanto para encontrar al criminal como para eliminar lo imposible …”

La muerte de Jezebel contiene uno de los mejores ejemplos de un crimen imposible que me he encontrado hasta la fecha. La trama está magníficamente elaborada, la historia es extremadamente ingeniosa y el misterio tiene una solución brillante. También nos ofrece una serie de posibles soluciones alternativas antes de llegar a la conclusión final. J.F. Norris, declaró acertadamente en 2009 que:

Brand fue una de las pocas escritoras de misterio que probó suerte en múltiples versiones de una convención de la novela de detectives, generalmente manejada con más éxito por escritores masculinos: el cuarto cerrado o crimen imposible. En su pequeña producción de solo 11 novelas de detectives, cuatro de ellas se pueden calificar como misterios de crimen imposible y creo que tiene al menos dos relatos breves con elementos de crimen imposible. Dos de estos misterios de crímenes imposibles han sido destacados por algunos críticos exigentes como referencias de este subgénero. Death of Jezebel pertenece fácilmente a cualquier lista de las 25 mejores novelas de cuarto cerrado o de crimen imposible.

Y Pietro De Palma, que escribe en Death Can Read, en su reseña en Goodreads:

Uno de los mejores y más impresionantes misterios de cuarto cerrado que he leído.
Una hipnotizador misterio de cuarto cerrado. Un teatro, un desfile de caballos, una prostituta, una venganza, la justicia que debería ser un caballero, otro jinete a caballo con armadura que no llegaremos a saber hasta el final si estaba vacía o completa, un crimen sin explicación y un crimen del que nada se conoce hasta el final. Una precuela que imagina la venganza por la muerte de un joven, resumida en tres páginas. Una verdadera obra maestra de uno de los escritores más cualificados de la edad de oro del misterio.
Una verdadera obra maestra.

En pocas palabras, un excelente libro que recomiendo encarecidamente.

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 una escritora británica de obras policíacas e infantiles. Nacida en 1907 en la Malasia británica como Mary Christianna Milne, paso la mayor parte de su niñez en Inglaterra y en la India. Tuvo varias ocupaciones diferentes, incluyendo modelo, bailarina, dependiente de tienda e institutriz.​ Brand también escribió bajo los seudónimos Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland, y China Thomson. Christianna Brand fue presidenta de la Crime Writer’s Association (Asociación de escritores policíacos) en 1972 y 1973. 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. La novela más famosa de Brand es Green for Danger. Esta obra, del tipo whodunit, se desarrolla en un hospital de la Segunda Guerra mundial, fue adaptada al cine por Eagle-Lion Films en 1946, protagonizada por Alastair Sim como el Inspector. Brand interrumpió la serie al final de los años 1950s y se concentró en otros varios géneros y relatos breves. 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 no de ficción sobre un caso de un asesinato escocés, Heavens Knows Who (1960). Brand es también la autora de la serie de cuentos para niños Matilda la enfermera, adaptada al cine por Emma Thompson en la película Nanny McPhee (2005). Sus cuentos con el Inspector Cockrill y una obra de teatro anteriormente inédita se reunieron en la obra The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook, editada por Tony Medawar (2002).

Serie del inspector Cockrill: Heads you loose (1941); Green for danger (1944) (Publicada en España en 2017 por Ediciones Siruela, con el título La muerte espera en Herons Park, traducción de Raquel G. Rojas.);
Suddendly at His Residence
o The Crooked Wreath (en los Estados Unidos) (1946);
Death of Jezebel
(1948);
London Particular
o Fog of Doubt (en los Estados Unidos) (1952);
Tour de force
(1955);
The Three Cornered Halo
(1957); y la colección de relatos: The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Cockrill’s Casebook (2002), antología póstuma.

7 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Death of Jezebel, 1948 (Inspector Cockrill #4) by Christianna Brand

  1. Agreed, a wonderful book and one of the best impossibilities produced in the genre. Anyone who hasn’t read it is missing out.

  2. This is the book that made me write a book, and it was a huge influence on my second book, so yeah, I kind of agree with you. I’ve read it at least five times and I’ve listened to the audiobook more than a few.
    I like the way De Palma phrases it: A hypnotic locked room. The part of DoJ that gets me now is the “everyone confesses” chapter. It’s not a great chapter, but it’s not meant to be. The sequence is a tactical defense of the puzzle. At that point, your solution to the problem is muddy and unfocused. What does Brand do? She has everyone confess. Everyone! Oh, this book is so much fun.

  3. It is so hard to get hold of, in the UK anyway. Only very expensive 2nd hand copies. Someone should reprint it….

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