RogerBW's Blog

London Particular, Christianna Brand 01 June 2017

1952 detective fiction; fifth of Brand's novels of Inspector Cockrill. Raoul Vernet, fading roué, had his head bashed in on a foggy night – in a nearly empty house. But everyone's got something to hide. US vt Fog of Doubt.

Once more Inspector Charlesworth is here mostly to make a mess of things, while Inspector Cockrill is brought in because he knows the family; once more, indeed, Cockrill has as his entrée to the case a young woman who's no better than she should be. This time, though, her activities have had consequences, and she's looking for an abortionist even though everyone thinks she should simply have the child and give it up, as nice girls have been doing for centuries. It's a sudden dose of realism for an author who's had plenty of horrid people doing nasty things but has generally avoided this kind of detail (and who still refers to a toilet as "the huh-ha").

"Who was this man, Rosie?"

"He was a Frenchman…"

"Oh, a Frenchman," said Cockie. Really then, it hardly counted, after all.

In the usual pattern for Brand, everyone here is fairly horrid, from the dotty old mother-in-law to the doctor hopelessly in love with the young woman, and it's hard to feel much sympathy for any of them or joy when the murderer is caught (and it's a fairly straightforward piece of deduction too, once you accept that everyone is lying about pretty much everything). Brand doesn't seem to think much of them either, skewering their accents and social pretensions. On the other hand those characters are well-developed, and the sense of time and place (much of the action happens in a house copied from Brand's own in Maida Vale) is excellent; and in particular there's an unspoken acceptance that, while a medical family like this would have had staff twenty years ago, now they have one inadequate girl who cooks and cleans but certainly doesn't help with the full-time job of looking after the baby.

"Inferiority complex," said Cockrill. "When girls wear their hair draped over their faces, it's always a sign."

As with The Tiger in the Smoke, the fog is relevant here, though as an important part of the plot rather than as atmosphere: people can simply get lost and wander for a while, with no landmarks visible, or miss each other as they pass.

It's hard work at times with the lack of sympathetic characters, but the court scenes are very effective and overall it works well. Followed by Tour de Force.

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