Friday, August 22, 2014

FFB: SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE (1946) by Christianna Brand


Far as I'm concerned, Christianna Brand (1907 - 1988) wrote three mystery classics (of those that I've read so far): GREEN FOR DANGER, TOUR DE FORCE and SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE which I finished just a few days ago.

These three books feature Brand's elusive creation, eccentric British Police Inspector Cockrill, usually referred to as 'Cockie'. If you haven't read them, I recommend dropping everything and doing so forthwith. They are THAT good. GREEN FOR DANGER, of course, was turned into a terrific movie starring Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.

Another of the brilliant doyennes of the Golden Age of Mystery, Christianna Brand is less well known today than Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers and the like, but to my mind, she was just as fiendishly clever.

Though in this particular book, Brand doesn't do a great job of defining Cockrill except for the fact that he rolls his own cigarettes, smokes like a chimney and wears a straw boater, oddly enough, I didn't find this all that bothersome. For whatever reason, in Brand's brand of mystery telling, the overall impression is so good, re: plot and suspects, that the detective is more or less lost in the shuffle. Not a problem with me though ordinarily it should be.

Maybe it's best that the detective does fade into the background in certain instances.

An English country house mystery is always a good thing. An English country house mystery set during the Blitz (WWII) is even better, especially since this impacts the story very satisfactorily in the end.

Question: Who killed grandfather just as he was about to change his will - yet again? (When will these rich and cantankerous old gentlemen learn that loudly broadcasting a change of will is not, generally speaking, a good idea.)

The March clan gathers at the family estate, Swanswater, to honor the day Grandfather Richard's first wife passed away - she who still rules the roost though she's been dead lo, these many years. Sir Richard's current wife Bella (who had been his mistress during the first marriage)  puts up with this yearly event with a certain amount of stoic fortitude, remarkable in and of itself considering that the older her husband gets, the more he reveres his first wife's memory. Guilt and general petulance will do that to a man.

So much guilt and so much petulance that he is constantly threatening to disinherit one family member over and above another for this or that infraction. So another altercation is hardly unexpected especially when all their nerves are frayed by their own individual needs and deeds, not to mention, the clamor of an on-going war.

Even worse and against his doctor's wishes, Sir Richard, who has a ticky heart, insists on spending the night - alone - out in the Grecian folly (or lodge) where his first wife died, there to muse on the wonderfulness of her being. This naturally disconcerts the family who, for various and sundry reasons, would prefer that Sir Richard not go off by himself to brood, especially in his present state of mind.

His death (at first thought to be a natural occurrence brought on by rancor) is discovered in the morning along with the additional drama of it apparently having occurred in a 'locked room'. The folly was surrounded by freshly sanded paths upon which any intruder OR family member would have left vivid prints had they approached the building. How did the killer get in, do this deed and then disappear without leaving footprints?

Everyone has their own theory and the author gives us enough of them (and enough red herrings) to confuse the issue nicely.

When a second murder occurs and that too has a 'locked room' flavor to it, well, it's almost an embarrassment of riches for Inspector Cockrill who understands almost immediately that the murderer must be a family member.

Among those staying at Swanswater is Bella March's thoroughly spoiled and neurotic grandson Edward who has managed to convince himself and everyone else that he is mad, bad and dangerous to know. So when suspicion lands heavily on Edward - in truth he wonders himself if he didn't do it -  the family circles the wagons. After all, the poor boy can't help the way he is - can he?

SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE is an intelligent and clever mystery which takes place in a secluded, claustrophobic setting with few suspects and less clearly defined motives than most stories of this type. The murders spring purely from the character of the killer and Cockrill, near the end, pulls off a neat bit of obfuscation in the interest of justice. And even thought the denouement wavers slightly under the heavy weight of a deux ex machina intervention, the thing serves its purpose spectacularly well.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Books, other bloggers are talking about today.

35 comments:

  1. Great stuff Yvette - I read the first Cockrill, HEADS YOU LOSE and the wonderful GREEN FOR DANGER but need to catch up with this and TOUR DE FORCE - thanks chum!

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. :) TOUR DE FORCE is beyond brilliant. I defy ANYONE to figure out who and how. A terrific bit of sleight of hand.

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  2. I have to have this book! Will look for all of hers. Sounds right up my alley! Thanks, Yvette! Love the cover too.

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    1. Be sure and get TOUR DE FORCE as well, Peggy Ann. You will love how the author pulls the wool over your eyes in plain sight. :) So glad you found a copy. There usually are plenty of them around - at least of these three.

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  3. Just got a copy over at Amazon!

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    1. P.S. If you'd ordered it from Abe Books, you would have gotten free shipping. Just sayin'. :)

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    2. Oh darn! Got it at Amazon for a penny and $3.00 shipping. Thats not too bad.

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  4. Yvette,

    Thanks for the information re Christianna Brand. I had seen the film,_Green for Danger_ several years ago, but didn't realize it was based on a novel. Inspector Cockrill struck as being a rather strange police officer and I am interested in seeing him in print. Are these the only three she wrote or just the only three that you've read?

    I will certainly take a look at her in the future, as I really like those mysteries from the "Golden Age."

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    1. Brand wrote quite a few books, Fred. Check out the link I've included to her bio, it will take you to her Fantastic Fiction page which lists her entire bibliography. She wrote many stand alones, of which the only one I've read I didn't like. But, as I like to say, nobody's perfect.

      I've read one other Cockrill book, HEADS YOU LOSE, but since I don't remember anything about it, I didn't add it to my little list of faves. Maybe it's time for a reread.

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  5. I adore both you and Bev for introducing me to authors I'm not familiar with. You have sold me on this one, now I just need to find it.

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    1. Easy to find online, Ryan and only for a couple of bucks or so. Try Abe Books, they'll probably have free shipping, they usually do. Also try TOUR DE FORCE, you'll love it. And for that matter, GREEN FOR DANGER which is also readily available for little cash. :)

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  6. I read GREEN FOR DANGER and thought it okay, but very much liked the film. Still, I rank Brand as a second-tier golden age author. I'm sure you disagree, which is fine with me, of course.

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    1. Richard, try TOUR DE FORCE, then tell me she's a second-tier writer, my friend. :)

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  7. I have read GREEN FOR DANGER & HEADS YOU LOSE. Loved GREEN FOR DANGER, but did not care for HEADS YOU LOSE. Thus I had not been in a hurry to continue. I do have TOUR DE FORCE, but not this one. I will have to find a copy, as your review certainly makes me want to read it.

    If you re-read HEADS YOU LOSE, I will be interested to how you think it compares to this one.

    I hope I did not submit this twice. I have had problems using Blogger commenting.

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    1. Blogger worked this time, Tracy. :) If you have TOUR DE FORCE, drop everything and read it. It' is so fabulous. Plenty of copies of SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE available for little money - luckily.

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  8. Second tier? Geez. She's the master of the multiple solutions in my opinion. Better than Ellery Queen at that trick.

    I like to think that I introduced you to TOUR DE FORCE. I also like that there's someone as enthusiastic as me about Brand. With your hoards of readers you'll do better at recruiting more Brand fans than I ever will with my paltry average of 150 hits per post.

    SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE (or THE CROOKED WREATH as it is also known) is not one of her best, but it has some nifty misdirection and a loopy solution to the lack of footprints in the gravel which I really loved. Now you have to find and read DEATH OF JEZEBEL which I think is Brand's masterpiece. TOUR DE FORE is a close second.

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    1. John I don't have that many more readers than you - please. I love your blog. Yes, you did introduce me to TOUR DE FORCE and I believe I thanked you in my original review. :) DEATH OF JEZEBEL is not as easy to find for cheap, but I'll keep looking. What about DEATH IN HIGH HEELS?

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    2. Just found DEATH OF JEZEBEL at audible.com so I ordered it to listen to. Strictly on your recommendation, sir. :)

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  9. Somehow the comment that I posted earlier has disappeared.

    Loved your review Yvette. The first Brand that i read was HEADS YOU LOSE and found it to be quite insipid. That put me off her but recently I read GREEN FOR DANGER and quite liked it. Now I really really want to read TOUR DE FORCE.

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    1. Sorry you had trouble commenting, Neer. You know how this Chrome thing loves to tease us. :)

      I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I did love this book. And I know you'll love TOUR DE FORCE. It has an amazing denouement that you won't see coming. I was quite bamboozled.

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  10. Yvette, this sounds like an unusual mystery and I’m judging it based on not just your fine review but also the creative cover, title, and the character name of Cockrill. I’ll try and read the three novels at some point. Thanks, Yvette, had never heard of Christianna Brand before.

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    1. Brand is too good to be ignored, Prashant. I think you'll find, if you read her, that you'll wonder why you waited so long. :)

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  11. Yvette,

    OK, will check it out.

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  12. Now I'm interested in reading Death of Jezebel and Tour de Force.
    For those Kindle owners, Amazon has Death of Jezebel for $4.99, but paper copies cost a fortune at Abe Books and Better World Books, at least those of us living on a fixed income.

    And thanks, Yvette, for that box of jewels. I'll let you know as I progress. The TBR stacks are frightening around here, but there is always room for a dose of Wolfe and Goodwin for good humor. Nothing like curling up with a book set in a West Side brownstone in which two detectives and a chef live.

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    1. DId you notice SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE???? You're very welcome, Kathy. :)

      I'm currently listening to DEATH OF JEZEBEL on my audible account. So far it's excellent. Hooray for audible!!!

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  13. I've never done audible. I'm wondering about it. I get headaches easily from noise so I'd rather not clutter up my brain/ears with more of it.

    How I wish there were movies out of these books. I've seen Green for Danger. I just love watching classic books on film, especially mysteries.

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  14. Abe Books has "good" and "fair" copies of Tour de Force at inexpensive rates. It also has "Suddenly, at his Residence" in paperback, mostly in "fair" condition, a few "good." A few are inexpensive, then the rates go up.
    Death to Jezebel must be a collectors' item and rare; it is expensive.

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    1. That's why I was thrilled to find DEATH OF JEZEBEL in my audible catalog. For me, audible is a necessary luxury - well, that's what I tell myself anyway. One of these days I mean to cancel, but then I keep finding more books to listen to. I've always loved to be read to and this is my way of maintaining the fiction.

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  15. While English country house murders aren't precisely my bag, I always like the sound of "fiendishly clever."

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    1. Oh this is definitely worth breaking any hard and fast rules, Kelly. :)

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  16. How do you listen to the audio? Are the books on cd? That could be listened to through a computer or cd player.

    What format do they come in?

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  17. Well, you know, the library has audio CDs though not in as big a selection as we might like. With audible.com, you have to join. The first month is free but thereafter you pay about fourteen bucks a month. They issue you a credit automatically and you use that to buy any of their audio books. They have thousands. Mostly unabridged - which I love. The reason I think it's a good value is that most audio CDs if purchased in the store cost a fortune. So for me, it's a nice compromise. You can cancel at any time for any reason too. Then re-join when you feel like it again. I cancelled out once a few years ago and then re-joined earlier this year. You build up your own audio library online. I have a fabulous one for whenever I'm in the mood to listen to a book. You can listen on any app thing that you have too. I'm working on putting all my audios on my ipod. But for now I listen on my computer. But if you have an i-phone or whatnot, you can listen on that.

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  18. P.S. Meant to mention that there are places online where you can download free audio books. You have to look around.

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  19. At the library website, there are many audiobooks. I'm just not sure how to do it, but thanks for your suggestions. I'll ask a librarian how I can do this.

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