Classic Crime

Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand (17 December 1907 – 11 March 1988) was a British crime writer and children's author born in British Malaya on the 17th December 1907 and named Mary Christianna Milne.

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 was ‘Death in High Heels and was written while Brand worked 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, ‘Head’s You Lose’. The character would go on to appear in seven other 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.

Brand dropped the series in the late 1950s and concentrated on various other genres as well as short stories. Brand is also best known for her Nurse Matilda children’s books. Emma Thompson adapted and starred in the 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Her Inspector Cockrill short stories and a previously unpublished Cockrill stage play were collected as The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill's Casebook, edited by Tony Medawar (2002).

Brand married Roland Lewis. Christianna Brand died on 11 March 1988, aged 80.

Review: Green For Danger

It is 1942, and struggling up the hill to the new military hospital, Heron’s Park, Kent, postman Higgins has no idea that the sender of one of the seven letters of application he is delivering will turn out to be a murderer in a year’s time. When Higgins is brought in following injuries from a bombing raid in 1943, his inexplicable death from asphyxiation at the operating table casts four nurses and three doctors under suspicion, and a second death in quick succession invites the presence of the irascible – yet uncommonly shrewd – Inspector Cockrill to the scene.

As the prospect of driving back across Kent amid falling bombs detains the inspector for the night, a tense and claustrophobic investigation begins to determine who committed the foul deeds, and how it was possible to kill with no evidence left behind.

Again, the dynamic of the British Library and the criminal mastermind of Martin Edwards brings us another writer I had heard of, but never read. ‘Green for Danger’ was not what I expected and was pleasantly surprised. When one thinks about the Golden Age of crime, you imagine something along the lines of Christie. However, Brand veers towards the Sayers, Marsh type of case. Brand presents more a psychological human drama than a straightforward case. The main of her story revolves round the suspects, so much so that her detective, Cockrill lurks very much in the background and is absent for long periods.

What I found fascinating was the dynamics of the characters, mixed with how these people have randomly been thrown together by war in a place which is not particularly well-equipped as a hospital in what had once been a sanatorium. As a picture postcard from that time, (this book was published in 1945), Brand gives us a perfect snapshot of war-torn Britain. ‘Green for Danger’ is suffused with history of Britain at a tumultuous time alongside a human drama that crackles with menace. Brand delivers a solution that shows why her books are still published today. The denouement was astounding and I was completely thrown – but all the clues are there and Brand does not cheat on any count. Another great addition to this growing series of wonderful crime classics.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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