I was pretty much goaded into this, you should know. Ben at The Green Capsule is diversifying his blogging to extend beyond the works of John Dickson Carr, and the first book he chose was Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger. In the comments, conversation turned to other Brand titles and Brad had the temerity to doubt my fortitude: I don’t think JJ should read Tour de Force either. I couldn’t bear to think what he would make of it! Well, challenge accepted. Now, true, Brand and I didn’t get off to the best of starts — Green for Danger made her very much the new stepmother trying too hard to replace Agatha Christie in my affections — but we’ve had some great times since then, and so I came to this with an open mind.
I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, I spend many hours online enthusiastically contributing to discussions about a moderately obscure area of popular culture — hell, I even wear glasses. I must, therefore, be a nerd. I mean, sure, I don’t own a single t-shirt emblazoned with some hilarious-but-obscure quote or image, but that’s mainly because the kinds of things I’d put on a t-shirt — “Hairy Aaron!” or, say, a decal of Gideon Fell above the legend Don’t irritate a man who knows 142 ways to kill you without being the same room — no-one else wants on a t-shirt and so they’re not available to buy.
The setup of The Poisoned Chocolates Case is rightly very famous: a lady is killed when a box of chocolates given to her husband by another member of his gentlemen’s club — who himself received them unsolicited through the mail — turns out to have been laced with poison. The police, with no culprit in sight, allow six amateurs with a fascination for real life crimes to theorise and present their own solutions, each one appearing watertight until someone finds a flaw that brings the edifice down. For this conceit alone, and the genius way Berkeley uses his different sleuths to unpick the sparse and simple known facts, this book has passed into near-legend in detective fiction circles.
Apologies for my recent blogging absence; a combination of what I understand are referred to as ‘IRL’ circumstances and the fact that everything I picked up and tried to read was absolute dreck put something of a kibosh on things. The sensible thing seemed to be just to write off September and move on. So now I’m back with the oft-cited classic — and so inevitably hard-to-find outside of the USA, where the lovely Mysterious Press have published it — locked room mystery Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand. Why this one? Well, it’s supposed to be awesome and I’m trying to get into Brand, having been thoroughly meh’d by Green for Danger (1944) and slightly more taken with Suddenly at His Residence (a.k.a. The Crooked Wreath) (1946). So, how did I fare?
I was recently reading a book on the promise of it providing a locked room murder, to which I am rather partial. When said murder arrived, it took on this approximate form: a large indoor hall with a free-standing stone chapel inside it which has one door and no windows or other points of ingress, a crowd witnesses a lady entering said chapel – which is deserted – alone and the doors are shut, only for them to be opened some time later and said lady found beaten, bruised and devoid of life. It’s moderately classic in its setup and should therefore provide some interest, but once I read the details of the crime I gave up on the book and will not return to it (in fact, it’s already down the charity shop).
This is not due to any squeamishness on my part, or a particular problem I had with the writing or the characters – both were fine, if unexceptional – but rather just because it just wasn’t interesting. It is hard to put this in words, which is why I imagine this post may run rather longer than usual, but there were simply no features of intrigue to me in that supposedly impossible murder. And so I got to thinking…forget plot or prose or atmosphere, take away all the context of an impossible crime, particularly forget about the solutions: what makes an interesting fictional impossibility? Continue reading →