Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand (1941)

As a small party of friends and family gather at Pigeonsford, Grace Morland sits shivering on the terrace, hoping to be asked to stay for tea. In truth, Grace is (not so secretly) in love with Pigeonford’s owner Stephen Pendock. Grace is less than enamored with Francesca Hart, who she sees as her rival. Her jealousy bubbles to the surface when young Fran shows off her new hat and she states, “I wouldn’t be seen dead in a ditch in a hat like that!” She will soon be proven horribly wrong. Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police, steps in to investigate.

While the murders are a little more gruesome than you might expect, it has all the required elements of a classic country house mystery—a snowbound village, a closed circle of suspects, simmering emotions, secrets to hide, and a detective determined to get to the truth. With one victim found surrounded by un-trampled snow, there is even an aspect of the impossible. Brand does well building tension by confining the suspects, placing them under constant surveillance, leading them to turn their thoughts to who among them may be a killer.

There are a few flaws though. With a limited number of suspects, it’s not too hard to figure out who the culprit may be. Also, Brand’s attempt at diversion by laying out a false solution is not a great success, resulting in an ending that is something of an anticlimax.

The characters are also not the most pleasant of company. But there are a couple of exceptions. Inspector Cockerill (“Cockie”) has a very shrewd mind, but is by no means infallible. He is irascible and acerbic, yet has a kind humanness that makes him rather endearing. And then there is Aziz, the dachshund who refuses to follow the rules, resulting in several light-hearted moments.  

All-in-all a well written, well plotted mystery, only let down by the ending. 

My Judgment –  4/5

Previous Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, Ben @ The Green Capsule

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza –  2013 Scattergories – #4 Leave it to the Professionals

Calendar of Crime – January #9 Snowbound country house mystery

4 thoughts on “Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand (1941)

  1. It’s a shame about the ending. Beginning with the next book, ‘Death in High Heels’, Brand’s reveals of the killer would become a highlight, either dazzling (multiple solutions, reversals out of nowhere, etc.) or emotionally devastating. ‘London Particular’ and ‘The Rose in Darkness’ are good example of the latter. HYL (great title!) gets lazy at the end.

    Still, as you say, a well-constructed mystery. The telephone sequence is marvelous.

    1. Great review Neeru! I have to agree with you about the snobbery (everyone in the house party found reasons to look down on just about everyone outside of their circle).

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