Thursday, February 16, 2012

Christianna Brand : Death of Jezebel, 1948

Born in 1907 and died in 1988, she was called Mary Christianna Lewis. Before becoming a full capacity to genre fiction, best known as the Lewis Christianna Brand, she held many different jobs: shop assistant, dancer, model and housekeeper, but he was not English, though belonging to the British Commonwealth: she was born in Malaysia and for many years lived in India. The daughter of a soldier, Christianna, engaged with the job contract, when she wrote his first novel Death in High Heels, in 1941, appeared in this thriller as his detective Inspector Charlesworth, which will appear in another novel almost forty years after 1979: The Rose in Darkness. However it was with the Inspector Cockrill, the brand hit it, and in fact, not only in his debut novel, Heads You Lose, again in 1941, Cockrill appeared in other novels, some of them masterpieces: Green for Danger (1944), that many people consider his finest novel, Death of Jezebel (1948), Tour de Force (1955). C.Brand also wrote other novels of the detective genre, introducing the Inspector Chucky, for example, Cat and Mouse (1950). Christianna Brand also wrote novels for children (those with Tata Matilda) who had considerable success.
First is one of those novels whose main event is happening under the eyes of all, in this case an audience, and novels of the genre, there is something a large number, for example: The American Gun Mystery (rodeo) by Ellery Queen, Eighty Million Eyes (on television) by Ed McBain,
Three Act Tragedy (a party) by Agatha Christie, "First Night Murder" (in theater) by F.G.Parke.
In the first part, the novel begins with an upheaval that leaves completely stunned. In fact, the part that the mystery itself was more dedicated to the presentation of the characters, their intentions, and poison of envy, jealousy, malice, premeditation or any reason for the manifestation of a criminal act, and who had a certain length, here is drastically reduced. And very often in the novels more typically British, for example those by Georgette Heyer, spend some time before they come to murder, or at least several pages. But in this novel, within just two pages, it tells of a doomed love and as a young man, deceived, we were able to kill with throwing his car into a wall, and like someone, then he vowed to avenge , killing those who were found guilty of his death. All in two pages: no loss of time, no ad hoc creation of atmosphere, but in no time at all, you get to the core: in a theater, a carousel horse has to be done, in costume: knights wearing armor and helmets of horses harnessed thereto, and a representation of courtly love, with the inevitable lady who should protrude from the balcony.
The fact is that the very lady is the witch who was behind the suicide is called Isabel, but everyone calls Jezebel, the brand name that uses surely referring to the biblical Jezebel, queen damned, who died torn by his dogs. And like the biblical Jezebel (queen Canaanite wife of King Ahab, who brought the worship of the Phoenician god Baal in Israel and found himself face it, the Prophet Elijah), or as the Jezebel of Revelation, that induces false prophetess and convinces many to commit adultery, this hateful woman, who keeps in check those around and try to make the most profit, end up doing the ending that everyone wants him to do, because she was behind the suicide of Johnny.

This is as if Christianna Brand takes the part of the murderer, and in some sense, because the victim is a hateful person who is designated as the cause of a suicide,it is as if every reader participated in the story, almost cheering because the killer could do it this time to escape . Moreover, in some cases, the detective is almost sorry he had to shut down the murderess, as in "When in Rome" by Ngaio Marsh. However, this reader's partisanship for the murder of a "witch", ends when the murderer in order to accomplish the murder, premeditates murder of an innocent person, that only for the avenging angel deserves to die , but in reality about Johnny Wise’s suicide has notbeen a big deal. He was a puppet in the hands and plans of Isabel-Jezebel.
But this murder, which turns out later than that of Isabel, which occurred in the theater, under the eyes of all, in a hypnotic Locked Room, was necessary because at some time riding the carousel, you might think that a knight was certainly on a particular horse, and instead it was elsewhere, to kill Isabel.

If I speak of texture and superb plot, here it is because Christianna Brand manages to make a convincing illusionistic virtuosity that really under the helmet, a certain person had seen the eyes, and you really do get on that horse there was a knight, White Knight. What then is found that may have been the Red Knight to strangle the beautiful Isabel-Jezebel, and that as many as four different people swear they each, the same Knight, this is another trick by which the brand cleverly shuffles the cards, and throws the poor reader to the lions, especially since at first to demonstrate that things can not be left in a certain way, and that the White Knight on the horse actually exist,  is Cockrill. How then can this be explained, is the basis of one of the most memorable novels I've read in recent years, and only when you read the explanation, you can understand the cruelty of the murderer and his lucid madness: how to fit two facts absolutely impossible (on a horse could not be a knight, and at the same time it was proven that under the helmet had been seen two blue eyes), will be the centerpiece of this extraordinary puzzle: only then it will be understood as it will be found as the second crime to be narrated actually preceded chronologically the first, the murder of Isabel-Jezebel, and not only with regard to time, but also to the very intent of the murder of Isabel. In fact, without being killed Earl Anderson, could not be organized the second murder (which is the first, that of Isabel-Jezebel): his decapitation was necessary. Because blue-eyed inside the helmet are his, of his severed head.
This fact of beheading the victims is not commonplace in the good years of Mystery: you almost always tended to avoid blood (It Walks By Night of Carr is a tribute to the French literature). So I think we can say that beheading is functional to the story. Apart from that, then the brand new novel, uses the same reason, and will be the legacy of ancient customs of the islands of Borneo, where she had lived as a young man (Headhunters of Borneo), I think it's a detail that binds Christianna Brand to Ellery Queen (The Egyptian Cross Mystery), where even there the decapitation of the victim is functional to plot of the novel. However compared to that novel, the reversal by Brand: there were headless bodies having a function (to recall the letter T) here is to have her head (eyes and then justify it under the armor there was indeed a person).
And when the murderess is revealed to be the avenger deaf to all cries of pity, at that time will be the twist: if at first the murderer could somehow be excused, having taken away a witch (but also the murder of Cain can never be excused?), now becomes a self-confessed by the culprit to justice. Because he has killed an innocent and because this must be for justice impartially. However, the final scene sees the murderer being led handcuffed off, those who attend know that he will be hung by the neck until he be dead, but the nice thing is that he, the murderer, knows but does not care about because he still has revenge.

P. De Palma


  1. Congratulations on the new English blog! Sharply designed.

    This is my favorite of Brand's books. The battle of wits and trading of insults between Charlesworth (you don't even mention him) and Cockrill and the crazy accusations in the end of the book had me laughing out loud.

  2. Christianna Brand was a great writer. For many years she and some of his great colleague of the Commonwealth - I think of Ngaio Marsh - have been somewhat underestimated compared to Christie, as if she had complied. Instead, two writers were very original, and they wrote a lot better than Christie. Note the tendency for the description of places and personalities behind the creation of the atmosphere: in the two is very marked, while Christie is more aimed at the psychology of the characters, the reticence and half-truths. In addition, Brand Marsh is more than fanciful, I would even say virtuoso in the plots, I would say the most American of women writers of the Commonwealth.