Suddenly At His Residence by Christianna Brand – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Every year, the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association holds an event specialising in children’s books and crime fiction at the Pavilions in Harrogate. I’ve always thought this was a strange mixing of genres, but for Christianna Brand, such a thing was a way of life.
Many will know her best from her Nurse Matilda books, which have been adapted for the big screen as the Nanny McPhee movies, written by and starring Emma Thompson. However, crime fans will instantly recognise her name from the many novels and short stories she wrote within the genre, including her most famous book, Green for Danger, which was turned into a memorable film starring Alastair Sim in 1946.
Sim plays Inspector Cockrill, Brand’s most enduring detective, who also leads the investigation at the heart of Suddenly At His Residence, released the year after the character’s big screen outing.
“Fiendishly tricky puzzle”
The story takes place during the dying months of the Second World War and completely within the estate of pompous aristocrat Sir Richard March, who is murdered on the night he was due to sign a new will disinheriting all his grandchildren in favour of his second wife Bella.
The prime suspects in Suddenly At His Residence are those aforementioned grandkids. Each of them rather spoiled, and who had gathered at Sir Richard’s family home for his traditional annual celebration of the life of his deceased first wife, Serafita. Bella, who had been his mistress and bore him an illegitimate child before eventually marrying him, may also have done the deed because, for reasons that eventually become clear, she doesn’t want his money or the property she would otherwise inherit.
Inspector Cockrill must figure out which family member could have committed the deed, as well as a second murder that occurs later and throws a real spanner in the works.
Brand has crafted a fiendishly tricky puzzle for readers to solve, throwing in numerous red herrings along the way. It’s an interesting read, although because the suspects are mostly whining bright young things, it becomes rather difficult to care which of them carried out the murder, or to have sympathy with any of their plights.
Still, Suddenly At His Residence is another strong entry in the British Library’s Crime Classics collection, featuring an informative introduction from Martin Edwards. I’m looking forward to whatever they unearth next.
‘Suddenly At His Residence’ by Christianna Brand is published by the British Library