My Book Notes: Tour de Force, 1955 (Inspector Cockrill #6) by Christianna Brand

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Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, Second edition, 1996. Book Format: Paperback. 272pages. ISBN: 978-0786703401. First published by Michael Joseph Limited, London in 1955.

1024757Book Description: This small Italian island is as pleasant as any in the Mediterranean. It helps Inspector Cockrill forget the cares and responsibilities of his Kent County Constabulary. But when a fellow tourist is found stabbed to death, Cockrill feels duty-bound to investigate. After all, the locals are slow to rouse to activity and the police exhibit a talent for ineptitude. What follows is hair-raising suspense that even Cockrill could not have foreseen. (© Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.)

My Take: Inspector Cockrill finds himself in Italy on holidays in a package tour, to stay away from his job at the Kent County Constabulary. The group of his fellow travelling companions is made up of six other tourists: Mr and Mrs Rood, he a professional pianist whose career was dashed by losing one of his arms in a bicycle accident; Miss Louvaine Baker, a famous novelist; Mr Cecil, a fashion designer; Venda Lane, a shy and reserved young woman; Miss Trapp, a rich middle-age lady; and their tour guide Fernando. So far, the tour has been a tremendous disaster. The accommodation was well below the advertised standard, the food had been absolutely dreadful, and the overall conditions unhealthy. When they finally arrive to their last destination, things dramatically improve. They have reach an island located halfway between the Italian coast and Corsica. An independent island state whose language is a sort of mixture between Italian and Spanish completely unintelligible, ruled with an iron fist by a Gran Duke who seems drawn from the middle ages and whose economy, besides the tourism, is mainly founded on smuggling. A fictitious islands that seems to come out right from a fairy tale.

In this idyllic setting, will come to light the repressed tensions that have been accumulated during the trip and will reach its peak when one of the tour members appears murdered.  The strange thing about all this is that it have occurred when the rest of the fellow travellers where all  at sight of inspector Cockrill. To make it all worse, the local police force is shown absolutely incompetent and the Grand Duke himself is only interested in finding a culprit and, as long as he can have a scapegoat, it makes no difference to him whoever is the real murderer. As a matter of fact, inspector Cockrill will be considered one of the main suspects. To make matters worse, nobody from the group will be allow to leave the island until finding someone to blame and condemning it to death.  

After reading and enjoying Green for Danger and Death of Jezebel I was indebted with Christianna Brand for not having immediately read another one of her books. Finally, when Kate Jackson who blogs at Cross-Examining Crime, published her ranking of Christianna Brand books, here, I new the time was ripe to dust off another one of her titles and nothing better than choosing Tour de Force, for that purpose. I sincerely believe that Brand is one of my favourite authors, and the three books I’ve read so far are a good evidence of that. However, even if I’ve very much enjoyed reading Tour de Force, I must acknowledge that, in my view, Death of Jezebel is Brand’s truly masterpiece. Anyway, Tour de Force was a very satisfactory read and I highly recommend it.

Two other titles I’m looking forward to reading without much further delay are Cat and Mouse and London Particular (aka Fog of Doubt) and I’m very much interested in finding copies of The Rose in Darkness and The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook without having to request for a credit for it.

Tour de Force has been reviewed, among others, at Pretty Sinister Books, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Death Can Read, Classic Mysteries, The Invisible Event, The Reader is Warned, The Green Capsule, Vintage Pop Fictions, Suddenly at his Residence, Cross-Examining Crime, and The Grandest Game in the World.

353687060About the Author: Christianna Brand was born Mary Christianna Milne (1907) in Malaya but spent most of her childhood in England and India. Before getting married and writing, she endured a succession of low-paying jobs, mostly in sales, but also including model, professional ballroom dancer, receptionist, secretary, shop assistant, interior designer, and governess. It has been alleged that she wrote her first book Death in High Heels (1947), while working as a salesgirl, as a way to fantasize about killing a co-worker. 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. Christianna Brand was married to her husband Roland Lewis for nearly fifty years. Mary Lewis died in 1988, aged 80.

The sadly missing Noah Stewart wrote: “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 Force is 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)

Christianna Brand 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 (US title: The Crooked Wreath) (Inspector Cockrill #3, 1946); Death of Jezebel (Inspector Cockrill #4, 1949); Cat and Mouse (Inspector Chucky, 1950); London Particular (US title: Fog of Doubt) (Inspector Cockrill #5, 1952); Tour de Force (Inspector Cockrill #6, 1955); The Honey Harlot (1978); The Rose in Darkness (Inspector Charlesworth #2, 1979); The Brides of Aberdar (1982) and The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook –a short-stories collection edited by Tony Medawar (2002).

Mysterious Press publicity page

Open Road integrated media publicity page

Inspector Cockrill, by Christianna Brand

The Queen of Hearts at ahsweetmysteryblog

Tour de Force, de Christianna Brand

Descripción del libro: Esta pequeña isla italiana, tan agradable como cualquier otra en el Mediterráneo, le ayuda al inspector Cockrill a olvidar las preocupaciones y responsabilidades del cuerpo de policía de su condado de Kent. Pero cuando un compañero de viaje es encontrado muerto a puñaladas, Cockrill se siente obligado a investigar. Después de todo, los nativos son lentos para entrar en acción y la policía muestra un talento especial para la ineptitud. Lo que sigue es un misterio espeluznante que ni siquiera Cockrill hubiera podido prever. (© Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.)

Mi opinión: El inspector Cockrill se encuentra en Italia de vacaciones en un viaje organizado, para mantenerse alejado de su trabajo en la policía del condado de Kent. El grupo de sus compañeros de viaje está formado por otros seis turistas: el señor y la señora Rood, él un pianista profesional cuya carrera se truncó al perder uno de sus brazos en un accidente de bicicleta; Miss Louvaine Baker, una famosa novelista; El Sr. Cecil, diseñador de moda; Venda Lane, una joven tímida y reservada; La señorita Trapp, una rica dama de mediana edad; y su guía turístico Fernando. Hasta ahora, la gira ha sido un tremendo desastre. El alojamiento estaba muy por debajo del estándar anunciado, la comida había sido absolutamente espantosa y las condiciones generales insalubres. Cuando finalmente llegan a su último destino, las cosas mejoran drásticamente. Han llegado a una isla situada a medio camino entre la costa italiana y Córcega. Un estado insular independiente cuyo idioma es una especie de mezcla entre italiano y español completamente ininteligible, gobernado con mano de hierro por un Gran Duque que parece sacado de la Edad Media y cuya economía, además del turismo, se basa principalmente en el contrabando. Una isla ficticia que parece sacada de un cuento de hadas.

En este escenario idílico, saldrán a la luz las tensiones reprimidas que se han acumulado durante el viaje y llegarán a su punto máximo cuando uno de los integrantes del tour aparezca asesinado. Lo extraño de todo esto es que ha ocurrido cuando el resto de los compañeros de viaje estaban todos a la vista del inspector Cockrill. Para empeorar las cosas, la policía local se muestra absolutamente incompetente y el propio Gran Duque solo está interesado en encontrar al culpable y, mientras pueda tener un chivo expiatorio, no le importa quién sea el verdadero asesino. De hecho, el inspector Cockrill será considerado uno de los principales sospechosos. Para empeorar las cosas, a nadie del grupo se le permitirá salir de la isla hasta encontrar a alguien a quien culpar y condenarlo a muerte.

Después de leer y disfrutar Green for Danger y Death of Jezebel, estaba en deuda con Christianna Brand por no haber leído inmediatamente otro de sus libros. Finalmente, cuando Kate Jackson, que bloguea en Cross-Examining Crime, publicó su clasificación de libros de Christianna Brand, aquí, supe que había llegado el momento de desempolvar otro de sus títulos y nada mejor que elegir Tour de Force, para ese propósito. Creo sinceramente que Brand es uno de mis autores favoritos y los tres libros que he leído hasta ahora son una buena prueba de ello. Sin embargo, incluso si he disfrutado mucho leyendo Tour de Force, debo reconocer que, en mi opinión, Death of Jezebel es la verdadera obra maestra de Brand. De todos modos, Tour de Force fue una lectura muy satisfactoria y lo recomiendo encarecidamente.

Otros dos títulos que estoy deseando leer sin más demora son Cat and Mouse y London Particular (también conocido como Fog of Doubt) y estoy muy interesado en encontrar copias de The Rose in Darkness y The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook sin tener que solicitar un crédito para ello.

Acerca del autor: Christianna Brand nacida Mary Christianna Milne (1907) en Malasia, pasó la mayor parte de su infancia en Inglaterra y en la India. Antes de casarse y de escribir, tuvo una sucesión de trabajos mal remunerados, principalmente en ventas, incluyendo modelo, bailarina profesional de salón, recepcionista, secretaria, dependienta, diseñadora de interiores e institutriz. Su primera novela, Death in High Heels, la escribió cuando Brand trabajaba como vendedora, mientras fantaseaba con la idea de eliminar a un molesto compañero de trabajo. Brand también escribió bajo los seudónimos Mary Ann Ashe, Annabel Jones, Mary Brand, Mary Roland y China Thompson. Christianna Brand desempeñó el cargo de presidente de la Crime Writers’ Association (Asociación de escritores policíacos) en 1972 y 1973. Christianna Brand estuvo casada con Roland Lewis, su esposo durante cerca de cincuenta años. Mary Lewis murió en 1988, a los 80 años.

El tristemente fallecido Noah Stewart escribió: “La señora Brand es más conocida en la actualidad por haber escrito los libros infantiles en los que se basaron las películas de Nanny McPhee, pero comenzó a escribir misterios. Sus misterios siempre han sido difíciles de conseguir; uno de ellos, Death of Jezebel, puede llevarle la mitad de su vida encontrarlo, pero son tan deliciosos como casi imposibles de resolver, aunque juega limpio. (Por ejemplo, una pista imprescindible para la solución de Tour De Force de 1955 se muestra abiertamente en los párrafos iniciales del libro, una excelente pieza de dirección errada; para cuando la información sea útil, uno ya se ha olvidado de ella por completo. Green For Danger se convirtió en una película brillante en 1946, protagonizada por Alastair Sim, y es su novela más conocida. Ciertamente es bueno, y también disfruté Suddenly at His Residence (también publicado como The Crooked Wreath), London Particular (también publicado habitualmente como Fog of Doubt) y los tres mencionados anteriormente. Heads you Lose and Death in High Heels, de los inicios de su carrera, han tenido menos éxito; trate de no empezar por ellos, si puede. Una de las cosas que he encontrado más amenas es que Brand tiene la capacidad de crear personajes que son bastante realistas e imperfectos, sin hacer que se destaquen del resto como evidentes culpables del crimen a fuerza de ser los únicos personajes realistas del libro. Esto la distingue de sus contemporáneos. Sin embargo, los enigmas en el fondo de las novelas son tan difíciles y complejos que nunca vas a poder adivinar la respuesta; son misterios que hay que resolver con lógica y observación, no con intuición”. (Noah’s Archives)

Bibliografía escogida de Christianna Brand: 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 (US title: The Crooked Wreath) (Inspector Cockrill #3, 1946); Death of Jezebel (Inspector Cockrill #4, 1949); Cat and Mouse (Inspector Chucky, 1950); London Particular (US title: Fog of Doubt) (Inspector Cockrill #5, 1952); Tour de Force (Inspector Cockrill #6, 1955); The Honey Harlot (1978); The Rose in Darkness (Inspector Charlesworth #2, 1979); The Brides of Aberdar (1982) y The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook –antología póstuma de relatos editados por Tony Medawar (2002).

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.

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

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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)