- By Christianna Brand
- First published: US: Dodd, Mead, 1946, as The Crooked Wreath; UK: Bodley Head, 1947
Brand usually turned out creditable work; she does not here. She populates the clichéd country house with a large family whose vocabulary is liberally peppered with ‘Dear’ or ‘Darling!,’ a condiment this reader finds offensive to his palate. The patriarch is murdered on the eve of changing his will—a thoroughly clichéd situation. She uses two impossible crimes—both ‘no footprints’—which are solved by variations on a rejected ploy from John Dickson Carr’s White Priory Murders and on the gimmick from He Wouldn’t Kill Patience. What irritates most is the twee and over-sentimental tone, always very arch, except when it degenerates into simply blatant melodrama.
Summer sunshine, the scent of roses, a pleasant country house; the family gathered there, handsome, charming, harmonious, ‘civilised’…But, ‘suddenly at his residence’ – Grandfather dies.
Inspector Cockrill, a shabby little sparrow among all these gaily-coloured humming birds, beats out the ugly truth: only one of themselves could have killed the old man.
Christianna Brand is at her best with a situation such as this: the horror, the heart-break, the doubt and dread, the uneasily growing suspicion between those who love one another; the nervous irritation, the bursts of hysterical gaiety, the sick despair… The mystery of a man, murdered – with no trace upon the sanded paths of the coming and going of his murderer.