Green for Danger (Christianna Brand)

By Christianna Brand

First published: US, Dodd, Mead, 1944; UK, Bodley Head, 1945

Blurb (UK)

Brand - Green for Danger.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Under the harsh, glaring light of the operating theatre, in full view of the surgeon and his assistants, a man dies: a harmless old man – a ‘death on the table’ such as leaves no member of the medical profession unmoved.  The first verdict is, of course, accidental.  But suddenly the sinister word ‘murder’ is whispered – until, like a forest fire, it licks through the hospital.  In murder’s train come murder’s ugly progeny – doubt and distrust and secrecy and, above all, fear: a fear that mounts to terror as again and again the murderer strikes.

A great military hospital is a whole world apart, a world peopled not by stiff, white automata, but by human men and women each with their joys and their sorrows, their loves and their hates.  Christianna Brand knows this world as well as she knows the people who dwell in it; and against its bright, antiseptic background, its reek of ether, its undercurrent of pity and pain, she has cast her new story – an exciting successor to Death in High Heels and Heads You Lose.

‘Those who spotted Christianna Brand as a bright and shining star when she wrote Heads You Lose,’ writes an American reviewer, ‘were correct – and then some!  Green for Danger is twice as good.  A glittering exhibit from the topmost drawer.’

We guess you’ll have to read it!

My review

Well deserving of the title “classic,” for it represents the detective story at the pitch of classical perfection.  The admirably depicted setting, a World War II hospital where operations are carried out under cover of the Blitz, sees a death not caused by Mr. Hitler’s ingenious little toys.  Joseph Higgins, a postman, dies on the operating table—and, since “to die in that shining little room, with the hot, bright lights beating down upon him, is to cast a gloom over a group of comparative strangers, to clutch icily at hearts that will not be warm again until a succession of straightforward, everyday cases has brought back reassurance and strength,” how much worse must those involved feel when the theatre sister follows Higgins into the next world?  Suspicion falls on the six people who knew Higgins was in hospital: on Major Moon, whose son was run over by a man on a bicycle; on Major Eden, not too scrupulous where women are concerned; on the anaesthetist Captain Barnes, with an unfortunate record of patients dying under anaesthetic; on his fiancée, Nurse Linley, conducting an affair with Eden; and on her fellow VADs, Nurse Sanson, who lost her mother in an air raid, and Nurse Woods, whose voice was enough to terrify two men.  Suspicion is cast around this closed circle in an expert manner, with clues serving both to construct and demolish cases against them in the best manner of John Dickson Carr.  The clues are established not through detection (indeed, Inspector Cockrill is principally a deus ex machina) but through discussion—the characters incriminate themselves as a sort of morbid parlour game.  The story is genuinely mystifying until the end, when, having waged a war of  nerves against his suspects, Cockrill brings the case to its conclusion in the operating theatre where it began, in a scene which is a masterpiece of sustained tension.  The number of suspects is small but the murderer’s identity is genuinely surprising; the motive (which should be obvious) is well-hidden; and the method that gives the book its title is utterly brilliant—as simple and as flawless as the book itself.

Contemporary reviews

Manchester Guardian (6th April 1945):

Miss Christianna Brand, who exhibits an agreeable familiarity with the details of the life of members of the V.A.D., has made use of her experience to write a detective story, Green for Danger, based on the death of a patient while undergoing an operation at a military hospital.  There are only six possible suspects, and Miss Brand has exhibited an ingenuity worthy of Agatha Christie in throwing us off the scent of the real criminal.  The many persons of the story are all credible and well-drawn human beings, and it is possible that the detective-story addict may feel that too much time is devoted to the development of character and too little to the methods by which the mystery is elucidated.  But the interest is well maintained, and our only technical criticism is a doubt as to the validity of the motive for the two successful murders and the attempted third.


Spectator (John Hampson, 6th April 1945):

Miss Christianna Brand makes a steady progress towards a place in the citadel occupied by The Big Five Female Who-Dun-It-ers.  Her new puzzle is well up to standard, and she lays down marked cards with the skill and effrontery of a race-course sharper.  I failed to find the murderer, even though she had deliberately enclosed the fatal being within a circle of six.  The scene is a war-time hospital in the blitz period: the killings are both neat and nasty.  The conversations are bright and facile, and a complicated operation paves the way horridly for future blood-letting.  The problem-solvers will give themselves as well as Miss Brand full marks.


Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 28th April 1945):

Details of an operating theatre are the chief material of Miss Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger.  Surgeons, nurses and patients as the characters, and among them is a murderer with a motive very difficult to divine.  This is a clever piece of work.


New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 2nd June 1945):

Green for Danger is also an exciting story until the murders begin.  A postman, Higgins, is injured in a night raid during the blitz, and brought in to a war hospital.  Next morning he is taken to the operating theatre for a simple fracture of the femur—and most mysteriously dies under the anaesthetic.  It’s murder; and old Dr. Moon, young Dr. Barnes, Mr. Eden, the Harley Street surgeon, Sister Bates and three V.A.D.’s are all incontrovertibly suspect without a vestige of motive.  So far, it’s a splendid plot with all the delightful trappings of hospital murder.  But then Miss Brand’s inspiration peters out.  Her Inspector Cockrill, a dim figure, has no idea of detection, except to herd the suspects together until they start murdering each other.  She herself treats detection as a game in which the author must at all costs baffle the reader.  Fortuitous circumstances have to conspire to aid the villain; and the villain has to be mad.  Oh! very well.  We can just stand that.  But why must the other six, who are not paranoiac, have the dice so loaded against them by accidents that they can never clear themselves of guilt?  No, the only interest in the latter half of the book is to watch Miss Brand’s frantic juggling to keep all her seven suspects rolling until the last page.


J. D. Beresford:

Miss Brand has exhibited an ingenuity worthy of Agatha Christie in throwing us off the scent of the real criminal.  The many persons of the story are all credible and well-drawn human beings, and the interest is well maintained.


The Star:

A brilliant plot and excellent characterization.  A first-rate crime novel.


Edward Shanks:

A detective story that I can thoroughly recommend.



Very entertaining, and the dialogue is a delight.  Excitement in plenty.


Time and Tide:

Miss Brand is a great find: she can write; her characters are people, not dummies; she is witty, and her plot is first-class … she rings the changes so cleverly that genuine mystery and suspense are maintained up to the last chapter.