Death In High Heels (1941) by Christianna Brand

Christophe et Cle was a dress shop in London of high renown. The staff generally got on well enough with one another, but with a promotion waiting in the wings for one of the lucky women who work there, the opportunity to run a new branch, tensions are running a little high. When some of the workers purchase some oxalic acid crystals – just to clean a stain, obviously – it’s no surprise when someone takes advantage of the confusion when some of the poison is spilled to introduce it into someone’s lunch…

Enter Inspector Charlesworth in his first investigation to attempt to establish who had a motive to kill the victim. As more and more office politics come to light, it seems there were plenty of people with motive, but few with the opportunity…

In 1941, Christianna Brand released her first two novels – this, featuring Inspector Charlesworth and Heads You Lose featuring Inspector Cockrill. Some sources cite Cockrill as appearing in this one, but it must be a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance and I must have blinked. Cockrill is clearly the character who clicked, as he goes on to appear in seven novels in total, whereas Charlesworth appears as a co-star in London Particular and then shows up for a last hurrah in Brand’s final mystery novel, The Rose In Darkness.

Cockrill is a more interesting character as Charlesworth has the deeply irritating primary characteristic of falling in love with a married suspect and then failing to believe in her guilt. It’s not Charlesworth though, that is the problem with this book.

It doesn’t have the meticulous plotting that Brand’s best novels contain. While her characters are there, along with her dialogue, this has a strong beginning and a decent ending, but the long middle section felt extremely padded to me. What was another surprise was that, at times, the female shopworkers didn’t seem as distinctive as they could have been.

The ending is decent enough, with a nice reversal on the motive, but Charlesworth’s insistence on teaching innocent suspects a lesson is another strike against him.

All in all, this is perfectly fine but a bit of a disappointment that it doesn’t rank with Brand’s best.


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