Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand (1948)

The Jezebel of the Bible was an unrepentant princess and seductress who, to pay for her misdeeds, was thrown to her death from a tower. And after her careless actions result in the suicide of her best friend’s fiancé, Jezebel is also a name given to Isabel Drew. And seven years later, as the actress is set to appear as a princess in tower, someone sees it as fitting that this Jezebel too falls from her tower. But in this case Isabel is dead before she hits the ground—strangled before her fall from a locked room, at the top of a tower, and in front of a crowd of hundreds. A seemingly impossible crime for the irascible Inspector Cockrill to unravel.

Okay, I’ve not read tons of “impossible crime” mysteries, so I’m definitely no expert. But, this has got to be the best one I’ve read so far. The plot that Brand created is excellent, with a narrative that is nuanced, and the mystery complex. There are red herrings, false confessions, and a few alternate solutions to grapple with before we are presented with a brilliantly simple solution. 

Brand’s witty dialogue, with its mildly cynical tone, is a delight to read. And there’s additional humor provided by her pairing of curmudgeonly Inspector Cockrill with the personable Detective Inspector Charlesworth. The result is a number of competing theories, and some very good verbal sparring, as the two (not so subtly) compete to see who will find the solution first. 

A Detective Inspector Charlesworth was on his way down from Scotland Yard, ‘Never heard of him,’ said Inspector Cockrill, with a gleam of pleasure.”

“‘Cockrill, Cockrill…’ said Charlesworth, thoughtfully biting upon his under lip. ‘Where have I…? Oh, yes! It was you who made such a muck of that hospital case down in Kent!’ Innocent of the slightest intention to wound, he shook the Inspector thoroughly by the hand. ‘Delighted to have you down. Hang around!’”

This is not an easy book to find at an affordable price, and after a hunt resulting in nil, I finally turned to my library’s online ebooks. In whatever version you can find it, I highly recommend you read this, because it is definitely worth it. 

Prior Rulings – José @ A Crime is Afoot, JJ @ The Invisible Event, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book published in the birth year of a loved one 

5 thoughts on “Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand (1948)

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one. It is one of my favourite Brand novels. It was fortunate you could get it through your library. I waited years to get my hands on a copy. Definitely a book that needs reprinting.

  2. Laurie – Great that you enjoyed this one as it is my favourite Brand novel. Everything works well here: Brand’s characters, impossible crime, false solutions considered, resolution/culprit, etc. It just all comes together. I have this in hard cover with just jacket and it is a prized possession.

    It is an “impossible crime” in and of itself that this has not been reprinted … hopefully the decision makers at British Library Crime Classics will see the opportunity they have with Brand.

    Imagine if Christianna Brand’s output had been as prolific as that of Carr or Christie. Regardless, she is one of the best GAD authors and re-read potential of her books is strong.

    1. So far this is only my second Brand, but I’m definitely on the lookout for more. It’s strange that the only reprint of it that I could find was as an ebook from Mysterious Press. They seem to have reprinted some of Brands books as paperbacks yet strangely, not this one.

  3. Yup, agreed — a masterpiece of plotting, surely one of the most ingenious pieces of work produced during the Golden Age. Which, considering the competition she had at times, is really saying something.

    1. Sad that she stopped writing detective fiction since, as far as I’m concerned, she’s a match for Christie. Oh well…just have to search out the rest of her work, including all of the short stories.

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