If in doubt, I always say, then go for Golden Age Crime! After loving the Dickens book I covered on Monday, I wasn’t sure where to go next with my reading – I’m still feeling very drawn to Dickens, but not sure if immersing myself in his work is sensible at a time when life is likely to be getting busier again. So I plumped for one of the recent releases from British Library Publishing in their Crime Classics series, a title which has been getting a lot of love in the Bookblogosphere – “Green for Danger” by Christianna Brand.

Brand, unlike some of the authors featured in the BL series, remains quite a well-known name. Her ‘Nurse Matilda’ children’s books have maintained their popularity, and her crime novels, along with her series detective Inspector Cockrill, were given a further push by the successful black and white film of this title, featuring the wonderful Alistair Sim as the detective. Somehow, however, I’d never actually read this book, despite having once (I’m pretty sure!) having owned an old Penguin version. So it was the pefect kind of escapism, just when I needed it.

Originally published in 1945, “Green for Danger” is set in 1942 and 1943, in the middle of World War 2 – a setting which has featured in some of the most successful BL reissues. Based around Heron’s Park, a recently set up military hospital, the story focuses on the death under anaesthetic of the local postman Joseph Higgins. Brand sets the scene with the opening of the story showing Higgins delivering seven letters of acceptance for roles at the infirmary. Tantalisingly, she reveals that one of the senders will be responsible for Higgins’ death in a year’s time, thus setting up a closed circle of suspects before the event.

We’re soon introduced to the cast of characters, with a little background; there’s the anaesthetist Barnes; the surgeon Gervase Eden, who seems to be irresistible to women; another surgeon, Mr Moon; Sister Bates; and three nurses, Frederica Linley, Esther Sanson and Jane Woods. All have their issues; all could potentially have murdered Higgins; but who has the motive? Fortunately, Inspector Cockrill is on hand to investigate (and, indeed, is known to some of the suspects); but the case is not an obvious one, and when there’s another murder, it seems that more than the air raids is making everyone jittery. The claustrophobia increases as all of the suspects are confined to Heron’s Park as Cockrill waits for the murderer to make a mistake – but will he misjudge things and will there be another victim…?

There’s obviously good reason for Brand’s crime novels being regarded so highly, as she really is a masterful practitioner of GA crime! The WW2 setting always seems to work well for this kind of book, but Brand takes things to another level, building in the suspense of air raids alongside her crimes, and the sense of the fragility of life during the conflic really comes across in the book. The hospital is dealing with those wounded in air raids, and many of the characters have their own secrets to keep. The plot is a twisty one, full of red herrings, and there was no way I was going to come anywhere near working out the solution – I suspected just about everyone at some point or another in the book! The characters are really well-drawn, too, with their emotions and baggage and mad passions on show – there’s a lot of very rapid falling in love in the book, which actually I think it quite accurate. From what I know from family members who lived through WW2, there was a tendency to pair off quite quickly, as who knew whether they would be alive the next day. Emotions play a strong part in the storyline, although it’s not quite the emotions you expect which are behind the final motivation!

“Green…” really was a marvellous read; brilliantly written, extremely compelling (I couldn’t put it down) and with all those lovely red herrings built in. I became so involved with the characters, which kept me up reading much later than I should have, and I was desperate to learn the solution and find out what became of them all – which Brand does round up nicely at the end. Christianna Brand obviously deserves to be ranked with the greats of Golden Age crime; “Green for Danger” deserves all the accolades it’s hard, and I can’t wait to watch the film of it! Pleasingly, the BL have released another of her Cockrill mysteries which is now sitting waiting patiently on my TBR – what fun! Highly recommend this one!

Jacqui’s excellent review of the book is on her blog here.