London Particular (Christianna Brand)

By Christianna Brand

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1952; US, Scribner, 1953, as Fog of Doubt

Blurb (UK)

Brand - London Particular.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

When we asked Christianna Brand what London Particular was about she told us: ‘It is set in a London house and everybody is either a member or close friend of the family – it is a doctor’s house, a Regency house in Maida Vale; in fact, it is my own house with all my own family and animals and things in it just for fun.  There is a very naughty little lovely called Rose who Gets into Trouble while at finishing school in Switzerland.  A French gentleman called Raoul Vernet flies over from Switzerland to “have a talk” (presumably, but was he her last seducer?) about Rose’s goings-on there; he arrives to dinner during a real peasouper, and being left alone for a short time is later found dead in the hall, the telephone receiver clutched in his hand and having been batted on the head with a thing called a mastoid mallet.  All parties concerned have been scattered about in the fog, conveniently minus alibis.

‘Inspector Cockrill comes into the story, and also my London detective Mr. Charlesworth; there is a very considerable slice of Old Bailey murder trial in it, and all that I can think of further to say is that most of the people are nice – I mean, it is one of those ones where the critics write and say afterwards that all the people are much too charming ever to have committed murder, as if I hadn’t made them up and wasn’t the one to know whether they would commit murder or not.’

In a review in The Bookman, Daniel George described Christianna Brand’s last book, Cat and Mouse, as ‘the most judicious mixture of terror and hilarity’ he had read for a very long time.  It seems likely that in London Particular Miss Brand will more than uphold her reputation as a first-class purveyor of thrills.

My review

Brand’s personal favourite, and one in which the setting is her life, her home.  It is thus tempting to see the house-owner, the competent and likeable Mrs. Matildas Evans, as Brand herself.  Brand’s characterisation is excellent: everyone is likeable and recognisable, and we can trace the web of affection and love between the seven suspects.  One of the interesting things about Brand is that, unlike other authors, whose characters are either strangers or enemies, her characters are friends—the victim is an outsider, an outcast—a death that does not seem to matter—but the second murder brings it much closer to home.  Because of the web of affection, the killer’s identity is genuinely moving—the ending of this one is bleak and despairing, the reader genuinely sorry—and we can accept that the suspects draw up dummy cases against themselves to protect others.

The setting for the first half is a comfortable upper middle-class (professional) household in London suburbia on a night of dense fog (hence the Dickensian title).  Murder is done, and Cockrill, a friend of the family, is called in, just as two arrests are carried out.  The whole culminates in a glorious courtroom drama, a brilliant mixture of drama and fair-play clueing, and a nicely-managed contrast between the pleased excitement of the public, and the tension of the sympathetic suspects—whom we have come to view as our personal friends.  Brand plays devilishly fair with the clues, and the least likely suspect is as surprising as he should be.  As good as Carr or Christie.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Alan Ross, 4th April 1952):

Miss Brand’s London Particular is a somewhat squalid affair.  Set in Maida Vale during a fog, it is an ingenious murder story about a foreign visitor killed with a mastoid mallet in a doctor’s house.  Skilfully plotted as it is, Miss Brand’s facetious dialogue, with its kittenish clichés and slang, makes it a great strain to read.