Death Of Jezebel (1948) by Christianna Brand – a re-read


Isabel Drew, Earl Anderson and Perpetua Kirk were all, to varying degrees, responsible for the death of Johnny Wise. Seven years later, on the eve of a pageant in which Isabel – or Jezebel as she is sometimes referred to as – will take centre stage, they all receive death threats. Inspector Cockrill is called to look in on things, but finds nothing until he gets his own note.

And then in the middle of the pageant, as eleven knights on horseback surround a central tower, “Jezebel” is thrown to her death from that structure. But nobody could have been in the tower with her and when her body is inspected, it is found that she has been strangled by a pair of hands.

When another death follows, it will take both Inspector Cockrill and Inspector Charlesworth to find a solution.

Well, if that sounded familiar, it’s because it’s the same introduction that I wrote the last time I reviewed Death Of Jezebel. What? It’s not as if the content of the book hasn’t changed since the British Library reprinted it. Is it?

Actually, it is a bit, as the paperback that I read in the Bodleian Library didn’t include the picture of the crime scene, something that I think is essential to really get to grips with the mechanics of the crime. The British Library version rectifies it, but, and this might be me, the picture could have been clearer. While this does help sort out where the knights are standing, I was still a bit confused as to the access to the tower where Jezebel is thrown from and where the bolted door that keeps getting mentioned is. Is it that door at the back of the arena? A plan view would have helped this poor confused reviewer…

This has the reputation of being one of the cleverest locked room mysteries out there, and I can see why. I’m still a little on the fence – there is just something about the method of the central crime itself that makes it too complex for my tastes. I like a simple solution to the problem, something that could conceivably work. Whereas here…

But that is really my only quibble here, as the rest of the book is Brand on top form. A small group of suspects that Brand manages to give full life to (despite this being a relatively short book), all of whose stories weave in and out of each other, written with a delightfully light touch. There are hints as to what is going on – including one conversation where Cockrill… oh, that’d be a spoiler. But knowing the solution, it’s a cunning piece of writing.

At the end of the day, this is a very fine example of the classic mystery, and a very fine example of the locked room mystery. It’s not the best ever – not that anyone would ever agree on what is. To be honest, I’m not sure I agree with myself as to what is. But it’s a book that should not have been out of print for so long (in the UK at least) and well done to the British Library for bringing it back. But you know what? I prefer Tour De Force. Just. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to judge for yourself – the British Library is releasing Suddenly At His Residence next year, so maybe Tour De Force will follow…


  1. Glad you at least managed to enjoy this one as much as you did!

    I personally disagree with the popular wisdom that the best solutions to locked-room mysteries (or, for that matter, mysteries in general) are by necessity simple and probable. I think theoretical possibility is important, but not liable probability. You can argue that the plot of DEATH OF JEZEBEL has about a 1 in 1,000 (numbers chosen arbitrarily) chance of working out the way the novel says it would, but then that’s what makes it the crime worth writing about. Think about it in the sense that, naturally, we aren’t seeing the 999 other similarly cleverly-conceived plots that blew up in the culprit’s face before they could get very far — DEATH OF JEZEBEL’s murder plot is so spectacular that it’s worth writing a novel about *because* it’s the 1 “1 in 1000” crime out of 1000 such crimes that worked out (almost) as intended. Thinking about it that way is how I’ve grown to embrace more complex plots and solutions, especially in locked-room mysteries — after all, there are only so many “can be summed up in 10 words or less” solutions to locked-room mysteries that are (1) clever, (2) novel, and (3) satisfying.

    That isn’t to say that unnecessary convolution is good, of course, but any mystery where I can at least see the positive benefit of the complexity is fine in my books. My bottom-line is really that I can tolerate any complex solution so long as it’s clever enough to justify the extra steps… And, by my estimation, DEATH OF JEZEBEL has plenty of cleverness to justify its complexity!

    Though I agree with you TOUR DE FORCE is also spectacular…


  2. […] Death of Jezebel has been reviewed, among others, by Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Wrte Under Your Own Name?’, Tom Cat at ‘Beneath the Stains of Time’, Kate Jackson at ‘Cross-Examining Crime’, Steve Barge at ‘In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel’, thegreencapsule at ‘The Green Capsule’, Nick Fuller ‘The Grandest Game in the World’, Jim Noy at ‘The Invisible Event’, J.F. Norris at ‘Gadetection’, Pietro De Palma at ‘Dead Can Read’, Patrick ‘At the Scene of the Crime’, Issac Stump at ‘Solving the Myetery of Murder’, Moira Redmond at ‘Clothes in Books’, Les Blatt at ‘Classic Mysteries’, Brad at ‘Ah Sweet Myster!’, tangledyarns at ‘Tangled Yarns’, and a couple of re-reads Kate Jackson at ‘Cross-Examining Crime’ and Steve Barge at ‘In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel’. […]


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