I’ve had a bit of a spree of historical mysteries recently – Nine Man’s Murder being the only one out of the last ten books that wasn’t one – so I figured it was time to step back into the present for a while. Well, at least a book that was set in the time that it was written, anyway. Hence, Green For Danger, the second of seven appearances for Inspector “Cockie” Cockrill. Ah, a more innocent time, for nicknames at least.
A wartime hospital, during the height of the blitz, is the setting for this Golden Age puzzler. A patient, Higgins, is admitted and is soon taken to the operating theatre, only to die on the table. When questions are raised about his death, enter Inspector Cockrill. Although he is impatient to leave, he soon smells a rat, most notably when another member of the hospital staff dies, this time unquestionably murder. With a circle of suspects limited to six hospital members, all of whose personal lives seem irreparably intertwined and most of them with a dark secret in their pasts, the scene is set for a cavalcade of red herrings, attempted murders and, of course, gathering the suspects together in the last chapter. But can Cockrill find out how Higgins was murdered before someone else dies in the theatre?
Interesting one, this one. A much acclaimed mystery, and, I think, it has a reputation as being Brand’s best work. Certainly it’s her best known work and has a place in the CWA Top 100 Mystery list. And it’s a curious piece.
I’ll be honest, it took me a little while to synchronise myself with the writing style. There’s what I can best describe as a charming artificiality to the whole thing. Everybody talks as if they’re in one of those black and white films where everyone seems to have a stiff upper lip. At least two male members of staff force themselves onto nurses for a kiss and no-one thinks anything about it (and indeed, after the initial shock, join in). Most oddly, despite it being 90% certain that the murderer is one of six people, they all sit around talking about it and not really reacting to the fact that one of them recently stabbed another colleague. It’s the era (1944) the book was written in, and, once I’d got used to it, it was all jolly good fun.
Plotwise, Brand does like her red herrings, and by the end of the book, I didn’t know where to look. Even the bluff at the last minute fooled me, but, looking back, as “Cockie” explains it all, the murderer should have been obvious. But I was clinging to what I thought was a clever theory, despite it being explained (somewhat implausibly) a few chapters earlier.
This is an ideal Golden Age mystery – everything is there to solve it, but you almost certainly won’t. Brand does a good job with pulling a surprise from a small circle of suspects and I’d be impressed by anyone who spots what’s going on. Highly recommended.
This, along with five other books by Brand, is available from MysteriousPress.com – five Cockrill books (two of which don’t seem to appear on other bibliographies – The Crooked Wreath and Fog of Death which I presume are alternative titles) and was provided for review via NetGalley. Do check out MysteriousPress.com and its extensive catalogue –including the complete Clayton Rawson, for example.