Sunday, 21 October 2018

Green for Danger - Christianna Brand (for the 1944 club)

This is rather a tragic little story.

On the night of an air raid Higgins, a former postman (now in the rescue squad) is brought into hospital, badly injured after being dug out of a bombed building. The next day, when he's in a state to be operated on, he dies under the anaesthetic.

Inspector Cockrill in comes as a favour, mostly to lay rumours to rest - no-one really thinks Higgins has been murdered (in fact going over the apparatus it looks impossible that he could have been) but one of the medical staff has been accused of making an error before and Mrs Higgins is upset and talking a bit wildly perhaps.

Yet, another night - and another air-raid keeping Cockrill there - and someone else is also dead.

One of the things that struck me about the story - one of it's odd strengths in fact - was that all of the six people who knew Higgins was in the hospital and might have been in a position to harm him are, to a greater or lesser extent, friends. The three women share quarters and help each other out and make sure the others have things like the comfort of a hot water bottle when they come back from a shift. Two of the three men worked together long before the war.
The last, who is strangely (and to his own bafflement and faint disgust) attractive to women, was the one person I wouldn't have minded being the murderer.

They, however, don't want it to be any one of them, and when Inspector Cockrill starts a kind of war of attrition, stationing police officers to follow their every move and restricting them to hospital grounds, it drives them together as a group, not apart.

(The Inspector does not cover himself with glory in this one, frankly. Not only does he have to do all that to smoke out the murderer, but he very nearly gets another patient killed before he works out the how. His re-enactment at the end goes right off the skids too.)

In the background to the murder as well, rumbling on and never quite flaring into drama, are the war time conditions and the reactions to them - disturbingly matter of fact decisions made about whether to go down to the shelter after an exhausting shift in the middle of an air raid, or risk being chased out of bed in your night things and made to go, whether to carry your gas mask when going for a run in the car. Whether to admit to the Inspector that you all keep a grain of morphia on you at all times, just in case you're crushed under a building and need something for the pain.

Yet it's all so undramatic. Brand is recording these facts in the same way she's detailing  how the hospital runs, all the routines and medications and men and nurses, the table down the middle of the ward with it's mismatched vases of flowers, the green paint of the operating theatre, the prunes and rice pudding without syrup or cream. There's a vivid sense of place here, and of six mismatched but well formed characters, and - going back to the actual plot of the thing - I have to admit Brand completely diddled me about the murderer, I hadn't expected it to be that person at all, and yet it made so much sense when it was explained.

As always, with thanks to Simon and Karen for the club and the logo. You can find more 1944 (and other years) books on their blogs.


  1. Great review - it's got me hooked already! I've not read any Brand, but this mixture of atmosphere and mystery sounds so intriguing. And a really good use of a wartime setting too.

  2. The only Brand I have read was Court of Foxes which I disliked but I think I would like this series much better!