Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

green for danger24-carat…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

World War 2 is underway and a military hospital has been set up at Heron’s Park in Kent. As the book begins, the local postman is taking a bundle of letters to the hospital from seven people confirming acceptance of positions they’ve been offered there. There’s Gervase Eden, doctor to the hypochondriacal rich and fatally attractive to women, feeling he must do his bit for the war effort. Jane Woods has always been a bit of a party girl but in a fit of conscience has signed up for nursing duty and is now wondering if she’s done the right thing. Esther Sanson sees nursing as an opportunity to escape from being a permanent companion to her needy mother. Mr Moon, an elderly surgeon, is glad of the chance to get away from his home, empty since the deaths of his wife and young son. Dr Barnes is the subject of local gossip about a patient who died under his care as an anaesthetist, so is also glad to get away. Frederica Linley just wants to avoid her father’s awful new wife. And Sister Bates lives in hope that she might meet some nice officers…

These seven people will become the chief suspects when a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table. At first, it’s assumed the death was no more than an unusual reaction to the anaesthetic, but when Inspector Cockrill is called in to confirm this, he learns a couple of things that lead him to suspect the death may have been murder. But before he can find out who did it, he first has to work out how it was done…

This has everything you would hope for from a true Golden Age mystery, and is exceptionally well written to boot. Brand introduces the characters straight away, and sets up the plot so that only these seven people could have had the opportunity to commit the crime. Her initial sketches of them already suggest possible motives even before we know who the victim will be, and she develops them more deeply as the book progresses so that, in a Christie-esque way, we are led to care more about some of them than others, enabling her to build up a lot of tension as they come under suspicion or even into danger. Because of course there’s going to be a second murder! And when it comes it’s brilliantly written – goose-bump stuff!

Film of the Book - Alastair Sim is Inspector Cockrill in the movie - review coming soon...
Film of the Book – Alastair Sim is Inspector Cockrill in the movie – review coming soon…

The plot is beautifully complex, as is the murder method – both murder methods, in fact. It turns out that almost everyone could have had a motive for doing away with the first victim, Higgins, an air-raid warden who’s been hurt in a bombing. The motive for the second victim is clearer – if one decides to reveal to all and sundry that one knows who the murderer is and intends to tell the police, well, frankly, it’s almost one’s own fault when one is discovered in a deceased condition not long thereafter…

Life in this military hospital during the Blitz feels totally authentic, with that rather stiff upper lip attitude that I believe the Brits genuinely had back then. So despite the war and the constant danger from air-raids, life very much goes on, with people falling in and out of love, making friends and enemies, coping with rationing and shortages and, importantly, keeping a sense of humour, which helps to keep the novel entertaining while not avoiding darker subjects.

Cockrill is also an old-fashioned detective. There’s no overbearing boss, departmental politics or whining about paperwork – he concentrates on solving the crime and does so by skilful questioning and clue-gathering. He’s can be a bit rude and has no hesitation in playing on the nerves of his suspects to try to frighten the murderer into mistakes. He’s also a bit of a sexist piglet, but then that’s another Golden Age tradition. But he’s dedicated to getting at the truth and, though he might take the odd risk, he’s willing to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

Christianna Brand
Christianna Brand

All the clues are there, meaning the novel is “fair-play”, but for most of it I remained nicely baffled, only getting there towards the end, and even then there were enough red herrings floating around that I still wasn’t sure I’d got it right. If I had a complaint, it’s that there a bit of a hiatus towards the end, when Cockrill decides to do nothing for a bit to try to allow nerves to work on the murderer. While his plan works, it does mean that the story slows down a lot at this point. But it quickly builds up again towards a nicely dramatic and complex climax, with enough moral ambiguity to make it satisfying. And Brand doesn’t forget to clear up all the side plots she has used as distractions along the way, as well as letting us know how things work out for the remaining characters.

Not all Golden Age novels glitter, but this one does – highly recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

55 thoughts on “Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

  1. This sounds fantastic! You know how I love a good old fashioned murder and it seems that this comes to a nice, satisfying ending. Bugger it – it’s going on the list!

  2. Thanks, as always, for another excellent review. This is my kind of crime novel. Must read it now before you review the film, which also looks like my kind of film – love Alistair Sim 🙂

    • Me too! A good mystery with strong characters – can’t be beat! You’ll need to be quick then – film review on Friday… 😉 But if you can’t fit it in by then, the film review will also be spoiler free…

  3. Isn’t it a great read, FictionFan? There’s a delicious sense of claustrophobia as Cockrill gets closer to the truth, I think. And I do love the wry, sometimes sardonic commentary on the social aspects of life at Heron Park. Brand created some interesting characters, too. I’m very glad you enjoyed this.

  4. I love the sound of this one. Had not heard of the author, but I’ll be looking up more about her. I notice that Open Road Media has been publishing the books again in the US. I love that publisher. They are bringing back a lot of older books that have gone out of print. And they are like new again to new readers. Lovely! You know, I’m all about not forgetting authors that were well-loved in the past.

    • I hadn’t heard of he either till I read another blog review of this book years ago – it’s been on my TBR for three years! Yes, I love Open Road too – and especially because I’m ‘off’ contemporary crime at the moment, it’s great to be able to read some of the stuff from an earlier age. I must check out more of Brand’s books, though I believe this is considered her best.

  5. See, this is why hospitals just can’t be trusted. Imagine dying right on the table thingy! *shakes head* So…how did they die? Must tell, must tell. And no stories!

    Sexist piglet! *laughing lots* You do come up with the funniest phrases, you know.

    Alastair Sim! That’s Scrooge, you know.

    • Great places for murders, though – what with the mortuary being so handy! But that would be a huge spoiler!! Well… since it’s you… in the middle of the operation, a terrible sound was heard, so high-pitched and screechy that it interfered with the medical equipment, and the man died. A mysterious figure with long curly hair was seen flitting through the door, snorting strangely… *shudders*

      Well, he wasn’t sexist enough to be a full-grown pig!

      It is indeed! He’s awfully good…

      • *laughs* Haha. And how mean. I mean, there has to be a Kenny song out there that you like. Search hard and low and you shall find one! I’m sure of it, the sudden. *nods*

        But pigs aren’t sexist!

        I’ve only seen it once, I think!

        • Must I? That sounds like a horrid way to spend an afternoon… I’d rather eat porridge! *grimaces*

          That’s true! I hereby sincerely apologise to all pigs who may read my blog! While I’m at it, I also apologise for… you know… bacon sandwiches and suchlike…

          I’ve never seen it! I just meant he’s good in general – he’s good in this one, anyway.

          • Listen to…”Hey Stoopid.” I’ve got a few people I might want to sing that to. They deserve it after all, you know.

            *laughing lots* I’ve never heard of a bacon sandwich. One must have an egg with bacon, you know, you know.

            He’s got a funny nose.

            • *laughs* I thought we were still talking about Mr G – seemed like an odd title for one of his songs! You’ve become such an Alice fan! Love the new vid, BTW – great fun, sir! *applauds*

              Really? Goodness! I can’t imagine life without an occasional bacon sandwich!

              Has he? *puzzled expression*

            • I know I have! He’s really cool. And so is his band. Oh really? Thanks bunches! Even the makeup?

              I do love bacon, you should know. Is it the stringy kind?

              Oh come on, you know he has!

            • *laughs* The makeup is brilliant! I don’t want to inquire too deeply into where the blood came from though *fears for Nick* It’s good to have you back on youtube in such fine style, sir – have I told you recently how talented you are? What was all the stuff you were changing with your foot?

              Nah, I prefer back bacon – less fat.

            • Haha. Nah, Nick made the blood. I think it was corn syrup and red food dye. Harmless, really. And edible, even! The makeup was awful to put on, you know. Tickled! And around the eyes…that’s just brutal. Aw, thank you, FEF. You’re awesome. So, that was a something like a pedal board. To give the illusion of distorting the nylon string guitar. That’s how I could change the tone, see.

              Back bacon? I think you made that up, the sudden.

            • Edible blood! You mean it’s like black pudding?! *laughs* I must admit I wondered more about how awful it must have been to get the make-up off! I’m hoping you haven’t ended up looking permanently like a giant panda (hmm… though now I think about it, that would be extreeeeemely cuddly!) I was surprised you used the Kremona, TBH – I was expecting electric. But it really worked!

              Hmm… I wonder what Americans call it… *googles* Nope! It looks like you don’t have an equivalent! You poor things!

            • Black pudding is probably more salty, yucketh. It was awful getting it off! And the hair dye thingy, too. I feel bad for AC just because of it all. A panda? Haha, rats. I was hoping I was freaky looking. Well, the classical guitar is so versatile! Just a little distortion…and there you go!

              I’m sure it’s not that good anyways. *nods*

            • *nods* Warrior food! *laughs* Oh, I didn’t mean you looked like a panda in the vid – no, no, you definitely looked like a freak! (*wonders for a moment if this might be a bit rude, but lets it go…*) I just meant the leftover traces might be a bit panda-ish when you’d got rid of the costume etc… ‘Tis versatile when in the hands of a master!

              It’s the best food in the entire history of human consumption… what a shame you can’t have some. *bites her sandwich and wipes butter from chin*

            • *laughs* A freak! I dig that. I can dig that, for sure. Well done, then, I say. Oh yes. I actually looked like someone who had a bad night’s sleep, I think. But it was such fun!

              Butter? There’s butter in it?!

            • Then perhaps I shall call you Mr Freak from now on! *laughs* I wonder if Alice ever manages to get all his makeup off… You can be Roy Wood next time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHNdQJPmTRU You know, sometimes I wonder how we all managed to survive the ’70s… and before you ask, I hated Wizzard!

              In the sandwich! Don’t you put butter in your sandwiches??

            • Okay, that is hilarious. And he’s holding a French horn, too! So out of place. He did have some cool saxes backing him. I think Alice does. I mean, I’ve seen him with it off, that is. Mr. Freak. Hm.

              No, never! I hate butter.

            • Poor man – I bet he thought he was cool too! I know – I kept wondering if he was going to play it… *laughs* Oh, I do apologise… of course, I meant Professor Freak!

              *horrified gasp* Whaaaat?!? How can you possibly hate butter?? It’s the most scrumpaliciously delumptious food known to woman!!

    • I’m not sure – my hair rose to such a degree that the porpy got quite jealous! All those blackouts – darkness is great for a bit of terrifying stalking… *faints*

  6. I loved her books when I was young. I didn’t know there had been a film though – I love Alastair Sim (and went to school with his great-nephew: there’s glory for you!).

    • Goodness! Not wishing to sound rude, but I had no idea he was that old. Somehow I thought of him as a mid – 20th century chap, but I see he was actually born in 1900. I think you’d enjoy the film…

    • I know – you’d think war and air-raids would be enough to contend with! However, when they weren’t actually murdering people, they were all quite caring…

  7. Sounds like a great read! I saw the movie and really enjoyed it and have always had it lurking (way) in the back of my mind that I should read it. I guess I should read it now (after I read Black Narcissus and sundry other books sitting on my shelf). 🙂

    • Yes, it’s good to know they didn’t let little things like air-raids and murder stop them from applying full make and doing their hair of a morning! The bulldog spirit! Both are excellent – enjoy!

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