Nice plot and stylish writing, but I couldn’t get into the characters…
It’s unusual to find a murder mystery that is so obviously set during World War II that was also written during the war, rather than after the fighting was over. And Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger is one of those books. It was published in 1944, and, per the introduction to the upcoming Kindle re-issue, Brand definitely was writing what she knew. Green for Danger is set in a frequently-bombed military hospital, while Brand herself had lived through the Blitz early in the war, and had a surgeon for a husband. And her familiarity with the setting is obvious throughout the book.
As the story opens a group of new recruits to the Heron’s Park hospital are introduced rather cleverly by having the postman muse about their letters on his way to the facility. And at the end of this first chapter, Brand then lets readers know that among this small group of seven people is (or will be) a murderer. So, although not technically a “murder in a manor house isolated by snow”, Green for Danger is quite similar in feel. And Brand does a very nice job of creating a twisty plot to fit. So far, so good!
Green for Danger, however, has some issues – foremost of which is the awkwardness of the characters, many of whom are both unlikeable and hard to believe in. A few of them work: it is easy to imagine the put-upon postman grumbling about having to toil up a steep hill to deliver no more than a handful of letters. But most are hard to credit: Gervase Eden, who has “an ugly face” and a “thin, angular body”, but still seems to be compellingly attractive to women; or Frederica, who is more-or-less promised to the local anesthetist, Dr Barnes, but seems oddly, almost self-sabotagingly, more interested in Eden; or Barnes himself, “shy [and] honest to a painful degree” – which works out to be an irritating degree as well.
On a personal level, although Green for Danger has gotten a lot of praise over the years, I was left rather cold. I liked the plot, which carried the book, and the writing was sharp, but I kept looking for more from the cast – and didn’t find it. I debated between three and four stars, and eventually decided that I’m glad that here on my blog I can give partial stars, so it’s getting a 3 ½. And finally, my thanks go out to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the review copy of the new e-book edition of Green for Danger.