It’s been a while since I reviewed a classic crime novel. It’s not that I haven’t been reading them. They’re a very enjoyable distraction especially when I want to read a book over an afternoon. However, I often neglect to review them which is a shame as there are some very good books by authors who are now sadly neglected. One such writer is Pamela Branch whose Murder Every Monday I read recently.
Clifford Flush hasn’t murdered anyone for a long time until one day he pushes a friend into the path of an oncoming bus. The man survives but insists Clifford leaves town. He takes an entourage, all of whom have been acquitted of at least one murder, into the countryside to become homicide consultants, helping people who want to commit murder. All goes well until one of the students is killed in the middle of the course. And there are plenty of suspects to choose from.
The edition that I read was a vintage penguin. The biography of Pamela Branch on the back cover reveals a fascinating life although I can see that she later died in her forties. It’s a shame she isn’t more well-known. Murder Every Monday falls into the humorous crime category but it’s so much more than that. Clifford Flush is a Ripley style figure who is part cold calculated murderer but also keeps a reign on the more extreme members of his team. The victim isn’t given much character development until his death. The focus is on first the motley bunch that constitute the criminals and then on the guests who come to learn how to kill people. Both groups are subtly portrayed. There are degrees of ‘badness’ although no-one is completely without stain.
The humour comes from the watching the characters interact with each other. There are romances, fallings out and murders committed in others’ names. It adds up to a rich melee of murderous fun and I’m definitely going to be reading more of Branch.
Picked up as part of my vintage paperback haul, the overwhelming opinion from other crime fiction enthusiasts was that Green for Danger by Christianna Brand was a classic of the genre. I found the biography of the writer inside the front cover fascinating. Christianna Brand worked a nursery governess, night club receptionist and model in Bond Street dress shops until she turned her hand to writing after she began fantasising about doing away with an irritating colleague.
Green for Danger is set in Heron’s Park military hospital during the Second World War. A disparate group of seven protagonists are introduced to the reader in the opening chapter, through the device of a postman delivering their letters to the hospital. These include a consultant and his anaesthetist, a surgeon and a nursing Sister and three VAD volunteer nurses. These hospital workers constitute the group of suspects who come under the suspicion of Detective Sergeant Cockrill when the postman, Joseph Higgins, dies during an operation. Although his death is initially ruled an accident, Sister Marion Bates declares that she has proof that Higgins’ death was murder, and soon she is also killed.
The book was a good solid read although I think I found the first half of the novel more enjoyable than the second. The build up to Higgins’s death was expertly done, with enough information given about each of the future suspects to see the individuals beyond their professional guises and as people with personal histories that were relevant to the murder. The tension was gradually built up and came to a head with the second murder.
The second half of the book, dealing with Cockrill’s investigation, dragged a little although much was made of the interweaving relationships between the characters. Clearly hospitals have always been a hotbed of romance and broken relationships. When the eventual culprit was revealed it was slightly too melodramatic for me and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the explanation. The greatest strength of this book though was the depiction of working in a wartime hospital; taking shelter from the raids, working tiring shifts and coping with whatever casualty is admitted. The book was also good on the position of women in the hospital, enjoying their freedom away from conventional society but becoming entangled in difficult love affairs.
Overall it was en enjoyable read and I can see why it has become a classic.It reminded me a little of PD James’s Shroud for a Nightingale and I’d forgotten how hospitals can provide such rich pickings for crime fiction plots. The book was made into a 1948 film starring Alistair Sim as Inspector Cockrill and has also been highly praised.