Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Death of Jezebel - Christianna Brand

It's a while since I read a crime classic from the British Library and Death if Jezebel was a good book to dive back in with, although I think reading the earlier Christianna Brand in the series, Death in Green, first might have been an advantage. 

What I loved about Death of Jezebel was the slang and the sense of slightly tired post-war characters. While it didn't make a significant difference that I hadn't at least read Death in Green, it did sometimes feel like there were references going over my head and Inspector Cockrill could have benefited from a longer acquaintance. 

As 'impossible crimes' go this is every bit as ingenious as you might hope. The Jezebel in question is killed in full sight of a crowd, inconveniently for the police, all the possible suspects are also apparently in full view of the crowd and nowhere near the victim... The solution is cleverly hinted at, but amidst the general confusion and red herrings of the plot, it's only at the end that the pieces fell together for me. 

More interesting to me was the way the whole cast of characters has been damaged in different ways by the war and how they're leading their current lives. Isabel Drew reminded me of the anti-heroine in To Bed With Grand Music - the more or less stock figure of the scarlet woman that post-war it seems to have been important to disapprove of. Fair enough this one is a piece of work who deserves her comeuppance as much as any murder victim can, and a lot of the men don't come out of it much better. Overall there's a weariness about all of them, these people have mostly seen too much, and been unlucky enough to survive it. Fresh new starts seem unlikely, and altogether the sense of a Britain still in the grip of rationing and with the scars of bomb damage still everywhere as a bleak kind of place is unavoidable. 

Lots of slang, and a dark but definite sense of humour work as an excellent balance though, so overall this book is a lot of fun, both as a mystery and for its details, the cover is also particularly splendid - there may even be an oblique kind of clue in it! Give it a go.

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