My Book Notes: The Crooked Wreath aka Suddenly at His Residence, 1946 (Inspector Cockrill #3) by Christianna Brand


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MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, 2011. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1615 KB. Print Length: 194 pages. ASIN: B005XE5BHK. ISBN: 9781453228357. “The Crooked Wreath” has been published in The Chicago Tribune under the title “One of the Family” copyright © 1946 by Mary Christina Lewis. First published in book form in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company, 1946 as The Crooked Wreath and in the UK by The Bodley Head, 1947 as Suddenly at His Residence.

A family patriarch is murdered on the eve of signing a new will

brand-thecrookedwreathBook Description: Sir Richard’s family has spent years waiting for him to die, but despite his weak heart, the old man simply refuses to cooperate. In the meantime, he makes their lives miserable by changing his will every few months, depending on which of his strange brood he favors that moment. Now he calls them together to announce his most diabolical revision yet: complete disinheritance of all the wastrels who bear his name. But he never gets a chance to sign the papers—by morning, he’s dead.

Scotland Yard sends Inspector Cockrill, the only detective clever enough to unravel the family’s tangle of jealousy and deceit. Each member had reason to kill Sir Richard, but which one plunged the syringe of poison into his heart? With a family this mad, nothing is as complicated as the truth.

My Take: Summer 1944. Sir Richard March, like every year at this time, gathers his grandchildren at his Swanswater estate to commemorate the anniversary of the death of his first wife Serafita, in a ceremony he himself established twenty-five years ago, to honour and celebrate her memory. Swanswater thus becomes one more character in the story.

Swanswater lay two miles out of the small town of Heronsford, in Kent, on the other side of the downs from Heron’s Park and just across the Tenfold Ridge, from Pigeonsford. It has been a beautiful house in its day and the hall and principle rooms still wore the distinction of their Georgian elegance; but it had been much added to, and on either side of its plain brick front sprawled whole wings of glass houses, squash-courts, orangeries, and a swimming pool, with a nightmare of marble terraces and balconies. To the east, the house fronted on flowered terraces, running down to the river’s edge; to the west, the gravelled arms of the drive enclosing a wide green lawn, opened out through magnificent wrought-iron gates onto the main road. Serafitas’s influence had dotted the ground with little bowers and temples, each quite charming in itself, but utterly ruining the character of the park; and on either side of the gates stood two of them, highly ornamental lodges in pseudo-Grecian style. In one of these tiny houses lived Brough the gardener and his wife; and in the other, Serafita had died.

Dr Philip March, Sir Richard’s only male grandson, who arrived recently from the United States together with his wife Ellen and their baby daughter Antonia, soon became his sole heir in the absence of any other direct male descendant, at the expense of his other two cousins, Peta and Claire. But on the evening of the first day of their family meeting, following a strong argument in which the relationship between Phillip and his cousin Claire comes to light, Sir Richard decides to disinherit his three grandchildren and leaves everything to his second wife and former lover Bella. In consequence, he looses no time in drafting a new will. At the end of the day and in accordance with his self-impose tradition, Sir Richard retires to expend the night alone in the same lodge where Serafita died, against everyone else opinion, given his advanced age and the state of his heart.

The next morning, Sir Richard is found dead in the lodge. It all points  he died of natural causes. The lodge was surrounded by a hedge of roses that hadn’t been trampled underfoot, and the sand path leading up to the door showed no footprints other than those left by Claire, when she brought him his breakfast tray and found him dead. However, soon some doubts arise and the new will he had drafted that night is nowhere to be found. And finally, the autopsy reveals that Sir Richard had been poisoned sometime during the night. But, who and how could  have injected him the poison without leaving any trace at all?

As the story gets on, another impossible crime takes place and the investigation becomes much more complicated. Sir Richard’s three grandchildren begin to hide information from Inspector Cockrill, in charge of the case, in an effort to protect Edward Treviss, the son of Sir Richard’s illegitimate daughter. The daughter he had had with Bella, his current wife,when she was his mistress. But then it seems clear that Edward could not have been involved in his grandfather murder and his three half cousins begin to accuse one another.

Even though the story at first seems somewhat conventional, Brand’s genius transforms it and, once again, she  offers us an impossible crime, two in this case, at the height of the three previous novels I’ve read so far. The  war makes itself present at all times, although with few direct references, and the multiple solutions to the enigma help us to enjoy the story even more. I’m looking forward to read the rest of her books included below on my selected bibliography. No need to add that Christianna Brand has become one of my favourite authors. Highly recommended.

The Crooked Wreath aka Suddenly at His Residence has been reviewed, among others, by BV Lawson at In Reference to Murder, J F Norris at Pretty Sinister Books, Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime, Les Blatt at Classic Mysteries, Dan at The Reader is Warned,  Ben at The Green Capsule, Steven Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and Nick Fuller at The Grandest Game in the World.

329

(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. John Lane, The Bodley Head (UK), 1947)

140940781About the Author: Christianna Brand was born Mary Christianna Milne (1907) in Malaya and grew up in India until she returned to England to attend a Franciscan convent school in Somerset. At age 17 her father lost all of his money and she had to leave  school to start working at a series of low paying jobs which included governess, salesgirl, dress packer, ballroom dancer, and model. She didn’t turn her hand to fiction until 1939, with her first novel making it to print after being rejected by fifteen publishers. Death in High Heels was the title of that book, and in an apocryphal story, she got the idea while working as a salesgirl fantasizing about killing a 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 six of her novels and eight stories. 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. Brand also wrote under the pen names Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland, and China Thomson. 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). From 1972-1973 she served as Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. Christianna Brand was married to Roland Lewis for nearly fifty years. Mary Lewis died in 1988, aged 80.

Selected Bibliography: Death in High Heels (Inspector Charlesworth #1, 1941); Heads You Lose (Inspector Cockrill #1, 1941); Green for Danger (Inspector Cockrill #2, 1944); Suddenly at His Residence aka The Crooked Wreath (Inspector Cockrill #3, 1946); Death of Jezebel (Inspector Cockrill #4, 1949); Cat and Mouse (Inspector Chucky #1, 1950); London Particular aka Fog of Doubt (Inspector Cockrill #5, 1952); Tour de Force (Inspector Cockrill #6, 1955); and The Rose in Darkness (Inspector Charlesworth #2, 1979).

Mysterious Press publicity page

Open Road integrated media publicity page

Inspector Cockrill, by Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand

The Queen of Hearts at ahsweetmysteryblog

Christianna Brand page at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Christianna Brand at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

Christianna Brand: Another Ranked List by Kate Jackson

The Crooked Wreath, de Christianna Brand

Descripción del libro: La familia de Sir Richard ha pasado años esperando su muerte, pero a pesar de su débil corazón, el anciano simplemente se niega a cooperar. Mientras tanto, les hace la vida miserable al cambiar su testamento cada pocos meses, dependiendo de a cuál de su extraña prole prefiera en ese momento. Ahora los convoca para anunciar su modificación más diabólica hasta el momento: deseheredar por completo a todos los gandules que llevan su nombre. Pero no va a tener la oportunidad de firmar los papeles: a la mañana siguiente estará muerto.

Scotland Yard envía al inspector Cockrill, el único detective lo suficientemente inteligente como para desentrañar la maraña de celos y engaños de la familia. Cada miembro tiene razones para matar a Sir Richard, pero ¿quién le clavó la jeringilla con veneno en el corazón? Con una familia así de loca, nada será tan complicado como la verdad.

Mi opinión: Verano de 1944. Sir Richard March, como cada año por estas fechas, reúne a sus nietos en su finca de Swanswater para conmemorar el aniversario de la muerte de su primera mujer Serafita, en una ceremonia que él mismo instituyó hace veinticinco años, para honrar y celebrar su memoria Swanswater se convierte así en un personaje más de la historia.

Swanswater se encontraba a dos millas de la pequeña ciudad de Heronsford, en Kent, al otro lado de las colinas de Heron’s Park y justo al otro lado de Tenfold Ridge, de Pigeonsford. Habia sido una casa hermosa en su día y el salón y las habitaciones principales todavía tenían la distinción de su elegancia georgiana; pero se había ampliado mucho, y a cada lado de su fachada de ladrillo vista se extendían alas enteras de invernaderos, canchas de squash, orangeries y una piscina, con una pesadilla de terrazas y balcones de mármol. Al este, la casa daba a terrazas floridas, que bajaban hasta la orilla del río; al oeste, los brazos de grava del camino que rodeaban un amplio césped verde se abrían a través de magníficas puertas de hierro forjado a la carretera principal. La influencia de Serafitas había sembrado el terreno con pequeños cenadores y templetes, cada uno bastante encantador en sí mismo, pero que arruinaba por completo el carácter del parque; y a ambos lados de las puertas había dos pabellones muy ornamentales de estilo seudogriego. En una de estos pabellones vivían Brough el jardinero y su mujer, y en el otro habia fallecido Serafita.

El Dr. Philip March, el único nieto varón de Sir Richard, que llegó recientemente de los Estados Unidos junto con su esposa Ellen y su pequeña hija Antonia, pronto se convirtió en su único heredero en ausencia de cualquier otro descendiente varón directo, a expensas de sus otras dos primas, Peta y Claire. Pero en la noche del primer día de su reunión familiar, tras una fuerte discusión en la que sale a la luz la relación entre Phillip y su prima Claire, Sir Richard decide desheredar a sus tres nietos y deja todo en manos de su segunda esposa y antigua amante Bella. En consecuencia, no pierde tiempo en redactar un nuevo testamento. Al final del día y de acuerdo con su tradición autoimpuesta, Sir Richard se retira para pasar la noche solo en lel mismo pabellón donde murió Serafita, contra la opinión de todos, dada su avanzada edad y el estado de su corazón.

A la mañana siguiente, Sir Richard es encontrado muerto en el pabellón. Todo indica que murió por causas naturales. El pabellón estaba rodeado por un seto de rosas que no había sido pisoteado, y el camino de arena que conducía hasta la puerta no mostraba más huellas que las dejadas por Claire, cuando le llevó la bandeja del desayuno y lo encontró muerto. Sin embargo, pronto surgen algunas dudas y el nuevo testamento que había redactado esa noche no aparece por ningún lado. Y finalmente, la autopsia revela que Sir Richard había sido envenenado en algún momento durante la noche. Pero, ¿quién y cómo pudo haberle inyectado el veneno sin dejar rastro alguno?

A medida que avanza la historia, se produce otro crimen imposible y la investigación se vuelve mucho más complicada. Los tres nietos de Sir Richard comienzan a ocultar información al inspector Cockrill, a cargo del caso, en un esfuerzo por proteger a Edward Treviss, el hijo de la hija ilegítima de Sir Richard. La hija que había tenido con Bella, su actual esposa, cuando ella era su amante. Pero luego parece claro que Edward no pudo haber estado involucrado en el asesinato de su abuelo y sus tres medios primos comienzan a acusarse entre sí.

Si bien la historia en un principio parece algo convencional, la genialidad de Brand la transforma y, una vez más, nos ofrece un crimen imposible, dos en este caso, a la altura de las tres novelas anteriores que he leído hasta ahora. La guerra se hace presente en todo momento, aunque con pocas referencias directas, y las múltiples soluciones al enigma nos ayudan a disfrutar aún más de la historia. Tengo muchas ganas de leer el resto de sus libros incluidos a continuación en mi bibliografía seleccionada. No hace falta añadir que Christianna Brand se ha convertido en una de mis autoras favoritas. Muy recomendable.

Acerca del autor: Christianna Brand nació Mary Christianna Milne (1907) en Malasia y creció en la India hasta que regresó a Inglaterra para asistir a una escuela de un convento franciscano en Somerset. A los 17 años, su padre perdió todo su dinero y ella tuvo que dejar la escuela para comenzar a trabajar en una serie de trabajos mal pagados que incluían institutriz, vendedora, empaquetadora de vestidos, bailarina de salón y modelo. No se dedicó a la ficción hasta 1939, cuando su primera novela llegó a la imprenta después de ser rechazada por quince editoriales. Death in High Heels era el título de ese libro, y en una historia apócrifa, se le ocurrió la idea mientras trabajaba como dependienta fantaseando con matar a un compañero de trabajo.  En 1941, uno de sus personajes más queridos, el inspector Cockrill de la policía del condado de Kent, hizo su debut en el libro Heads You Lose. El personaje aparecerá en seis de sus novelas y ocho historias. Green for Danger es la novela más famosa de Brand. La novela policíaca, ambientada 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. Dejó la serie a fines de la década de 1950 y se concentró en varios géneros, así como en cuentos. Brand también escribió bajo los seudónimos de Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Roland y China Thomson. Fue nominada tres veces a los premios Edgar: por los cuentos “Poison in the Cup” (EQMM, febrero de 1969) y “Twist for Twist” (EQMM, mayo de 1967) y por un trabajo de no ficción sobre un caso de asesinato escocés, Heaven Knows Who (1960). Es autora de la serie infantil Nurse Matilda, que Emma Thompson adaptó al cine como Nanny McPhee (2005). Sus cuentos del inspector Cockrill y una obra de teatro de Cockrill inédita se recopilaron como The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from inspector Cockrill’s Casebook, editado por Tony Medawar (2002). De 1972 a 1973 ocupó el cargo de Presidente de la Crime Writers’ Association (Asociación de escritores policíacos). Christianna Brand estuvo casada con Roland Lewis durante casi cincuenta años. Mary Lewis murió en 1988, a los 80 años.

Bibliografía escogida: Death in High Heels (Inspector Charlesworth #1, 1941); Heads You Lose (Inspector Cockrill #1, 1941); Green for Danger (Publicada en España en 2017 por Ediciones Siruela, con el título La muerte espera en Herons Park, traducción de Raquel G. Rojas., Inspector Cockrill #2, 1944); Suddenly at His Residence aka The Crooked Wreath (Inspector Cockrill #3, 1946); Death of Jezebel (Inspector Cockrill #4, 1949); Cat and Mouse (Inspector Chucky #1, 1950); London Particular aka Fog of Doubt (Inspector Cockrill #5, 1952); Tour de Force (Inspector Cockrill #6, 1955); and The Rose in Darkness (Inspector Charlesworth #2, 1979).

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