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 did 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.