Suddenly At His Residence (1946) aka The Crooked Wreath by Christianna Brand

Sir Richard Marsh has gathered his grandchildren – who also, as you might guess given the nature of classic crime, are his potential heirs – and as they spend time together, tensions begin to rise. The shadow of Sir Richard’s first wife hangs over the gathering, until the inevitable happens – Sir Richard lies dead.

But the lodge where he was staying overnight was unreachable – the lawns were impeccable and the gravel path was freshly rolled – how could anybody have approached the victim? And when a second body, similarly unapproachable, is found dead, it seems Inspector “Cocky” Cockrill has his hands full.

This is another read inspired by Bodies From The Library 2, the tale “NO FACE” by Brand in that book being a particular highlight. This one has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I’d been putting it off, as there aren’t that many Brand titles out there, and some of which – Death Of Jezebel in particular – are next to impossible to find.

Some people seem to love this book, some people don’t. It has a surprisingly low score (3.5/5) on Goodreads, so what did I think?

It’s got issues. Quite a few issues, to be honest.

Before I go into them, I’ll still say it’s a good read. The plot keeps moving forward, and suspicion never settles on any particular character, settling on a choice and motivation that makes perfect sense. At the end of the day, the murderer is well thought out.

But the road to the murderer can be frustrating. Inspector Cockrill is at one point particularly fallible, requiring the help of one of the suspects not to fall for the murderer’s trick, and his behaviour towards the end to get a confession from the killer is utterly bizarre.

And I should mention the impossible nature of the crimes. The first one isn’t bad, despite sort of being eliminated early, and actually wouldn’t work if you know a little about physics – the police would notice, almost certainly – but that only kicks in if you think about it too much. And don’t wonder about who gets their path rolled last thing at night? The second one just wouldn’t work. There is a world of difference between two ways that BLANK could BLANK on the BLANK, and they would look entirely different…

Oh, and the event that happens at the end of the penultimate chapter… well, I’ve not seen that before in the denouement of a mystery.

It’s definitely an interesting read with some (mostly) good character work – not sure about only one character finding an affair between cousins being a bit icky though – but a few too many issues for it to be a true classic in my book. Other people disagree – here’s John Norris’s post that is much more favourable…

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHERE – In A Locked Room (albeit locked with gravel and dust rather than conventional doors)

3 comments

  1. I thought Inspector Cockrill sounded familiar, having looked it up I see that it is the Alistair Sim character from Green for Danger, possibly my favourite English detective story film. Now if I read the book I suspect that it would be difficult not to see the detective as Alistair Sim.

    Like

  2. I liked this one rather a lot, probably more than the other couple I have read, aside from Green For Danger of course. It depends on a couple of cunning strokes rather than a complex construction.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this very recently and was under the impression beforehand that it was very well regarded so when I read it and thought it was ok but nothing special I was a bit surprised. Then I read around a bit and found it seems to have a very mixed response. I found it very easy to read (within 24 hours which is unusual for me) and with Brands usual twists and turns and beautifully elegant prose. But the ‘locked-room ‘ solutions? Nah!
    I thought ‘Tour De Force’ was aptly named with a terrific denouement . I have only seen the film of ‘Green for Danger’ which was excellent but of all the GAD authors I’ve read she really does produce the most unlikeable cast of characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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