#418: Spoiler Warning 7 – Fog of Doubt, a.k.a. London Particular (1952) by Christianna Brand

spoiler-warning

As discussed previously, we are here today to find out how good I am at spotting clues and things in the detective novel London Particular, a.k.a. Fog of Doubt (1952) by Christianna Brand.  We’ll be doing this by examining my thoughts on a chapter-by-chapter basis and there will be spoilers.  Do not read futher if you wish to remain unspoiled.

Fog of Doubt London Particular

I’ll be honest: as much as I enjoyed this approach, it was a bit of an arse to do.  Sitting down to write my thoughts on each chapter as I finished them meant that I had to be near my computer to read the book.  There was no point taking it with me on the bus, since I didn’t want to think at the end of chapter 4 “Well, so-and-so is clearly a such-and-such” only for chapter 6 to reveal that so-and-so was most certainly not a such-and-such, because then when I came to write about chapter 4 I’d already know what had happened in chapter 6.  Yeah, I could have taken a notebook with me, but I wanted to get my hot take down as quickly as possible, and I express myself much more clearly typing than writing long-hand (spelling mistakes and everything).

So, silly me.

Anyway, this goes on for long enough as it is without adding a long-winded introduction of needless complaint to it, so let’s dive in.  I did this in three-chapter chunks, first reading chapter 1 and immediately writing up my thoughts, and then reading chapter 2 and writing up my thoughts, etc, etc.  I set myself a target of 200 words per chapter in my summings up, and  — you’ll just have to trust me on this — only changed what I wrote in that I corrected spelling errors and edited/rephrased so as to reduce them to that number of words.  Once my thoughts on a chapter were recorded, they were not altered, because where would the fun be in that?

Hopefully that’s everything — remember: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS below — now on with the show.

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Chapter One

Goddamn, “The dank grey fog was like an army blanket, held pressed against the window of the car” is a wonderful opening sentence.  I love this sort of in media res opening, saving us three chapters of character relationships before the fog and the phone call.  And the atmosphere is beautifully tangible — “a ghost bus, a-glimmer with eerie lights” — with a real emphasis on the fleeting visuals rather than the deadened sounds (“the little car stealing through the muffled murmur of the fog-blanketed city like a marauding cat”).  I’ll probably struggle to take a character called Tedward too seriously, especially post-Jedward, but let’s see how we do.  And let’s get a prediction in early: Tedward is the killer and this ruse of being lost is simply to enable enough time to pass for the victim of his attack to actually die.  Well, you were all thinking it, weren’t you?  And I also think it’s weird that a dying man knows who to call and should take the time to specify which type of mallet he’s been hit with: surely, “Someone hit me, I think I’m dying, come quickly” should suffice.  It also seems a long conversation for a man who thought he was dying…

Chapter Two

Okay, I wasn’t expecting a chapter on illegal abortions, but look at the delightful character work here: “a young dog who had subsequently proved to be up to some very old tricks”, “the unerring cunning of the intensely stupid”, “a serious, though not very well-informed, Communist”.  For what’s probably a taboo subject given the era, Brand does great semi-comedic work here with Rosie’s story trotted out, changing and changing again to suit her audience, the girlish one-upmanship between her and Melissa is a beautiful piece of ‘show’ to contrast against those trenchant ‘tell’ observations.  True, this is very much in that ‘character relationships’ idiom that I disparaged above, but at least it’s done with some purpose, providing a sense of the characters beyond merely their relationships to each other, and linking in the possibly dying Raoul Vernet.  Interesting, too, the contrast in responses between the generations: Granny and Tedward and Matilda unwilling to countenance the idea of abortion, Melissa willing but unable; only Damien responding with more than a generational reactionism, and easily a figure of fun before it even came to that.  And are we to infer that Raoul is responsible for Rosie’s condition?

Chapter Three

Now we finally get everybody together: Raoul coming to dinner, Matilda reflecting that “she was not so vast that a good black dress couldn’t still do wonders for her”, and Thomas coming into view with a heart “buried under so many layers of reserve and detachment that if he broke it over this affair…there was no knowing how to apply the balms that might help mend the heart of an easier man”.  Brand does excellent work giving the house a sense of function without overplaying it — again there’s a light comedy in the closing sequence beginning with Gabriel the poodle expecting “walkie-palkies” and the subsequent chaos that erupts — and helps this feel like more than simply a convenient house, soon to be fog-marooned, in which someone is going to die.  In particular:

There was no chance of a flood in the desert and very little of earthquake or fire so they ought to have a quiet morning.

and

Melissa was…making some pastry with thumpings and bangings and rollings that went to Matilda’s heart.  No wonder she suffers from backaches, she though; not to mention indigestion.

are simply exquisite.  Not much plot here, I’m guessing, but, dude, these already feel like people.

Chapter Four

Despite her tendency to leap from one perspective to another without warning, I do so love Brand’s writing: “she respected the honest idealism which drove him to improve the world in which he, himself, had not yet learned to live” is another diamond of character-by-observation (Matilda this time, not Damien), as is “she did not want a too constant reminder that her beautiful memories had turned out rather shame-making delusions after all”.  I was not initially convinced of the slamming door signalling Exeunt Damien, but we see him at the end of chapter in his meeting elsewhere and so he can’t be waiting in the house to kill Raoul, and obviously the note for Thomas (“Ten weeks. D and V.  Three days”) could be as much a ruse by the killer to get him out of the house as written by Thomas to give himself an alibi (he’ll doubtless return having been ‘unable’ to find the address, and naturally no-one will have seen him in the fog), but that feels rather obvious.   Heaven alone knows whose embrace Rosie has found herself in, or where or why Melissa is pacing “like a tigress baulked of its prey”.  But — oh! — what a wonderful line this closes on.

Chapter Five

Okay, so Tedward didn’t kill Raoul — in chapter 1 it’s a five-minute journey between the houses, and he’d take longer than that in the fog despite being out of the room for “five minutes” getting the car out.  But it’s interesting that he isn’t present when the phone call comes through (viz. Thomas’ “D and V” message in chapter 4).  So Rosie could have phoned Matilda to see if Raoul had left as discussed and been told that she, Matilda, had just killed him and so they cooked this up between them (“Heaven knows Tilda was a maniac about the baby’s routine” — allowing her to be ‘out of the room’ when the killing took place); but she’s been upstairs for the whole time Rosie and Tedward are driving over?  Hmmm.  And Thomas may be “half a mile away”, but he could have driven that far in the fog after killing Raoul and before turning around to make it look like he’s been out.  As for Damien and Melissa, who knows?  But they all seem too obvious.  My money’s on old Mrs. Evans, “panting, her wig awry” as if following some exertion.  She’s thrown something out the window that struck the leaving Raoul, and this is all cooked up to save her from the gallows.

Chapter Six

The police suspect Thomas, so it’s not Thomas, even if “Cockie…could well imagine Thomas hitting somebody over the head and killing them”.  Rosie is denying that Raoul — a “stuffy old thing” who “was a bald as a coot” — fathered her child…except, well, she doesn’t actually deny it, and she also doesn’t appear picky about whom she flirts with (by implication she was doing it with the phone operator at the start of this chapter).  Thomas, as expected, failed to find the address and so is conveniently unalibi’d, but given Melissa’s man and his need to be “careful” I’m wondering if the two of them aren’t having a liaison — he invents the patient on her night off so they can canoodle without arousing suspicion.  Hence Melissa’s sick feeling — keeping quiet allows the man she loves to be accused of murder, but speaking out…well.  However, I’m going to jump on Matilda having “unhooked” Gran’s wig; I’ve no idea what this involves, but it would indicate some precursor to removing it.  Nevertheless, Gran was still wearing it — albeit “awry”, see chapter 5 — and nothing in Matilda’s testimony explains the “panting” mentioned contemporary to that awryness.  Hey, if I’m wrong, at least I’m being misled by details…

Chapter Seven

Sure, sure, there may be DOCTOR and a phone number by every phone in the house, but I’m still not buying that Raoul actually made that phone call.  Nice try, along with all that talk of “lucid periods” after receiving a head wound to explain how he lived long enough to do so.  And since it was Stanislas who Rosie was cavorting with outside the house before going to Tedward’s, why didn’t he show himself at the Evans’ house after he and Rosie had gone their separate ways?  I’m not buying for a second that Melissa was meeting him, I’m holding out for Thomas.  As for what Damien and Melissa got up to that’s left him limping and her in his debt — maybe Raoul died as suggested above and they’re the ones who covered it up: dragging the body back inside, phoning Tedward and pretending to be Raoul (the old, lazy standby ‘a foreign accent is easy to fake’ could be trotted out here), Damien injuring himself in the process.  And how gorgeous a description is “His square brown face broke into a thousand delighted wrinkles”?  And I thought Cockie and Charlesworth both were responsible for solving Death of Jezebel (1948)

Chapter Eight

Classic detective fiction never really dwelt much on morgues, did it?  I don’t recall another GAD novel — though, admittedly, 1952 is a bit late to call this GAD — talking about the sewn up corpse, or even mentioning the pathologist beyond a confirmation of cause of death (“He died from a single whack over the coconut” — Carr would have poisoned him, just for the fun of it).  Also, does Melissa’s flashback with its “glimpse of clay-white fingers still clutching the telephone receiver…” imply that she actually found Raoul like that, or is this a deliberate piece of misdirection?  I’m still holding out for Mrs. Evans — I forgot to mention above how convenient it was that the mastoid mallet could well have been in a bureau upstairs — and some sort of cover-up to protect her.  That whole section on how easy it would be for anyone to kill him all seems too engineered to misdirect, and the frankly specious nonsense about threatening him at gunpoint which comes out of nowhere here feels very cobbled together and half-arsed for someone of Brand’s skill.  My solution has a lot in common with that Chesterton story, it occurs to me now, but that doesn’t preclude it outright.

Chapter Nine

How have I not noticed before that apparently everyone stood around for ten minutes with a dead body in the hall before Thomas arrived?  That seems a very long time to just…stand there staring at a surprise corpse.  Maybe Thomas was there after all, and they sent him away precisely because, as the only doctor on the premises, he’d be the one who’d likely fall under suspicion, exactly as Cockie has deduced (this would, at least, explain the blood on the mat in the car).  The “comes in” vs. “comes down” nit-picking seems simply a space-filler to argue out a previously-achieved answer rather than as part of a logical chain, since would someone not have “come in” to the room to hit Raoul?  And at last it is suggested that perhaps it wasn’t Raoul on the phone — specifying the type of mallet being rather suspicious as I said above (yay!), so it’s only a matter of time before it transpires someone put on a ‘foreign’ accent and Rosie was too dim to notice any difference.  Also, notice how “the old lady” is an afterthought, not seriously considered in the case.  Jeepers, my reputation will never recover if I’m wrong about this…

Half-Time Show

Half-Time

Chapter Ten

Sure, I started off suspecting Tedward in the very first chapter, but the ruse by which we’re supposed to think him guilty — Cockie ringing the back-door bell that conveniently sounds like a telephone bell, and Rosie not noticing the difference in origin of the sound and so answering the phone — is…shit.  As a piece of misdirection, too, it makes little sense: either a) he’d have to be in consort with Thomas, by earlier faulty reasoning, with Thomas killing Raoul at a time that required Rosie to be at Tedward’s so that Tedward could fake a phone call in order to…what?  No, that makes no sense.  Or b) Tedward and Rosie arrive in the car and Tedward killed Raoul when he went inside the house…but that seems a bit risky since he was only taking Rosie back because he reckoned Raoul would be gone by then.  I mean, if Raoul had gone, what then?  Man, for spinning potential solutions out of the fabric of the story as presented, this strains a lot harder than is becoming for someone of Brand’s reputation and talents.  Death of Jezebel did this brilliantly, but it feels here like it’s being done because DoJ did it brilliantly.

Chapter Eleven

I killed Raoul!  And I killed Raoul!  And I killed Raoul!  And I especially killed Raoul!  Ugh.  Still, Mrs. Evans is drawing attention to her wig — picture me, looking smug, though why she needs her wig on to kill a man is a little lost on me, unless in collecting the wig she found the mallet in the drawer — and there’s something very charming in the twinkly-eyed admission of her affectations.  Also, how appropriately heartbreaking is this?:

“And it was quite a gift, Inspector, it really did amount to a touch of genius to be able to flirt in those days — so gracefully and delicately, to be able to break hearts just a little and not too much; and one’s own heart not at all.”

And while Tedward claims option b) above, I’m pleased to see that he’s as confused as I am over whether Raoul fathered Rosie’s child.  I suppose Rosie is pregnant?  She’s presented as enough of an air-head that she could well be mistaken.  But then Dr. Tedward has examined her and proclaimed it so, or at least been taken in by it, and we’ve no reason to suspect he’s anything less than competent.  Oh, well, onwards.

Chapter Twelve

We didn’t really see the aftermath of the discovery, so perhaps Thomas got in Tedward’s car or vice-versa and that’s how the blood got transferred?  I don’t know, and I don’t believe it will be important.  Still, Mrs. Evans could not “have lifted those feeble arms and felled man to the ground” — would the mallet be too heavy to throw out a window?  I’m cooling on this theory, but mainly because my brain has pulled everything apart and it’s getting a little boring.  All this thinking every point over — does anyone ever read a book in this way?  And if so, do they enjoy it? Surely it’s more fun just to pick up on a few pointers but in the main simply let a book happen to you.  As for Damien, he’s fallen somewhat out of the picture, eh?  And what does his mother’s “pet lodger” collecting subscriptions have to do with anything?  Anyway, despite Rosie’s claim to the contrary, Tedward remembers her being there at his shoulder when he entered the house, so he’s out of contention.  You have to wonder why she’d lie about it, unless she wants him found guilty to protect someone else.  Oh, well, she’s dying now.

Chapter Thirteen

I had entirely forgotten about Tedward giving Rosie those drugs, and it feels like the ‘murder by suggestion’ conclusion is reached a little easily, but let’s look into that.  It seems unlikely anyone who had previously insisted Rosie keep her baby would transmogrify overnight into someone then egging her on to take extra abortifacients — and surely even poor, sweet dozy Rosie would have been a little suspicious.  So this leaves Melissa, the only one who at least made overtures to helping her in chapter 2.  Can it be so coincidental that Rosie knew something damning about Melissa and Melissa happened to be the only person who’d support her in her abortion (a conversation which occurred before the murder of Raoul Vernet, lest we forget)?  But, well, Melissa already thinks she can say a single word and name the murderer — meaning it’s not her — so it’s more likely there’s someone she is protecting who Rosie had some knowledge about and therefore needed to be dispatched.  And since Thomas thinks Tedward can support him over the blood in the car, that leaves Damien and Matilda — unless Melissa is in love with Tedward and not having an affair with Thomas.  Oh, mercy, I don’t know.

Chapter Fourteen

Hairy Aaron, I appreciate there will still be a shock in store somewhere, but ‘I did this action which resulted in damning evidence and then I forgot it and someone was able to remind me that something different happened’ is simply the worst type of plot reversal.  This is as bad as the inquest in Anthony Berkeley’s Not to be Taken (1938) [Editor’s note: a 500-word tirade on the subject of that book has been excised from this entry].  Tedwards parking his car in front of Thomas’ garage so that Thomas could not have put the car away as previously claimed comes out of nowhere, I even went back and checked the earlier chapters to see if any mention is made of it that I’d forgotten — nothing.  I’m very annoyed.  Given the dramatic closing line for this chapter (“The dead hand of Rosie reached up and jerked the noose tight.”) you get the impression Brand just wanted a moment of high drama after a lot of conversation and not much in the way of excitement.  This is Brand’s equivalent of the Second Late Murder, except she’s already done a Second Late Murder (Probably), and it’s all ended up a bit of a damp squib.  I feel the edge of my patience beginning to give now, I’ll be honest.

Chapter Fifteen

Urf, I do so hate chapters of court proceedings or inquests that do nothing but restate the various events up to that point — and Brand is still hiding that ten-minute window between Tedward and Thomas showing up (notice how Matilda is ushered out of the dock with a wry observation about the stenographer having to write a lot and hoping for someone more taciturn as the next witness…I can’t tell if that’s good misdirection or simply frustrating writing).  I didn’t see anything worth spotting here beyond the strict adherence of Matilda’s in the habits and events of raising her child…but I consider it unlikely she killed Raoul because she’s such a stickler for detail and he wouldn’t let her go upstairs at the appointed time.  I’ll admit to skipping a few bits here, but this is at least partly due to how the reading of this has been so interrupted — it’s becoming a bit of a pain to always have to read within reach of my computer, since I normally read in a variety of locations.  Man, talk about projection; will I enjoy this book less because I haven’t been free to read it in my normal way?

Chapter Sixteen

As much as Melissa’s evidence that she’d seen the body before and the household were responsible for turning the corpse onto its back is supposed to be a shocking revelation, it’s really a cheat, innit?  I mean, when you don’t see these events when they occur in the narrative, you can throw in anything you like in the final 15% of the text.  Equally Damien’s involvement — frustratingly, all we know (well, technically, all that’s implied) is that he comes up after Melissa takes the dog out for a walk, sees the body in the hallway, and immediately runs out of the house.  Goddamn, how many times are we going to be guided right up to something meaningful only to be steered away at the last moment?  And wasn’t Melissa convinced earlier that she could name the murderer?  So why didn’t she say anything when pouring out her story in the dock?  Nothing in her version of events, not that we were made privy to, points a finger at anyone.  Arguably this chapter ties up some loose ends, but only because Brand had dragged all manner of non-mysteries that don’t realistically contribute anything across the trail.  I sure hope these final two chapters are worth it…

Chapter Seventeen

I am done with this fucking book never telling you anything that actually happens whenever you get near a key moment — goddamn, even when Mrs. Evans gets in the witness stand and rambles on and on about pancakes and is about to confess to throwing the mallet down onto Raoul’s head, we get this:

Mr. Justice Rivet thought that it would be best if the witness would now retire.

Because of course!  In the middle of a murder trial, when someone is about to give key testimony implicating themselves your natural response is that it would be a good time for them to stop talking.  It’s telling just how far we’ve strayed from the Golden Age, because of how many last-minute declarations and revelations and implications can just be jammed into the narrative without a whit of concern for anything that’s come before.  Need the fog to make it difficult to find your way?  Done.  Need Damien to make it to the house in the fog in no time at all so that he can be on hand to be suspected later?  Equally done.  I’m going to say now that whoever it turns out to be, there’s no way in hell the reader could have solved it.

Chapter Eighteen

Ha, so it was Tedward all along, and there really was no way you’d ever be able to solve it.  I consider this whole mystery a series of massive cheats, because while you’re arguably led to believe he was only away from the car for a short time and that’s your fault, too much else is too much nonsense: the ‘fake phone call’ ruse (there’s nowhere near enough information provided for you to know that’s even possible, never mind correct), the fact that he apparently does use the gun to threaten Raoul so that he can then strike him with the hammer…how does anyone even guess that?  You may say I’m annoyed because I didn’t solve it, but be honest — we want to be surprised and caught out by something clever (and, hell, if my ego was that fragile I’d just edit in loads of little things that would turn out to be correct, rather than ‘Melissa and Thomas are having an affair’, etc).  But there’s nothing clever here, no decent fair play, no genuine misdirection, because every time you get near anything the scene changes or the characters faint or something and so anything meaningful is always off page.  A huge disappointment.

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Okay, there’s a huge amount to discuss, but I might do that in the comments rather than go on here (you’re already 4,000 words in if you’ve read this far — check out your commitment!).  Suffice to say, I’m not impressed with this one, and will happily explain further if anyone is still curious enough to ask.

Before we go, a brief mention of some others who also saw fit to take on this chatper-by-chapter challenge after I announced I’d be doing it here.  Firstly Puzzle Doctor looked at Fear and Trembling (1936) by Brian Flynn, a book not many of us will possibly ever get the chance to read, but I enjoyed the opening stages greatly, to the extent that I stopped reading in the hope it will eventually get republished (that’s a new one, eh?  “I enjoyed this so much I just had to stop reading it…”).  Two people also took on The Red Widow Murders (1935) by Carter Dickson: Phinnea at RavenscroftCloud and Brad at AhSweetMysteryBlog.  Hopefully they all had a more organised time doing this, and didn’t chain themselves to a computer during a heatwave…

And a special mention for Kate at CrossExaminingCrime, who read and reviewed this one in the run-up to this post.  It’s lovely to think anyone pays even the vaguest attention to what goes on here, and I really appreciate you all getting on board with this in your different ways — many thanks!

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Previous Spoiler Warnings on The Invisible Event:

1. The Peacock Feather Murders (1937) by Carter Dickson [w’ Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel]

2. Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie vs. He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr [w’ Brad @ AhSweetMysteryBlog]

3. Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot [w’ Dan @ The Reader is Warned]

4. And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout [w’ Noah @ Noah’s Archives]

5. The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939) by John Dickson Carr [w’ Ben @ The Green Capsule]

6. Invisible Weapons (1938) by John Rhode [w’ Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy!]

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Finally — with a full and frank acknowledgement of your forbearance — on my Just the Facts Golden Age Bingo card, this fulfils the category During a weather event.

27 thoughts on “#418: Spoiler Warning 7 – Fog of Doubt, a.k.a. London Particular (1952) by Christianna Brand

  1. Fully agree with you! I read this recently in anticipation of your read-along and didn’t like it at all. The great misdirection everyone talks about apparently was Tedward killing Raoul while leaving the car in the fog ; well I had realised from the first chapter that neither Tedward nor Rosie had a perfect alibi and Tedward could have killed Raoul even if they arrived at the house together.(which was later established)

    But is there any reason that Tedward had to be the murderer? A case could easily have been built up against any of the other suspects and Brand could have made anyone the murderer. Not fair-play in the least!

    • In a way, ther person who makes the most sense as the murderer is Matolda, because she’s so adamant about everything she does or says and could easily be turne dinto someone who would not stand for some opposition on some small point — there’s something of the fanatic in that obsessive cosseting of her baby (still breastfeeding at age 2!) that I half expected to turn into something, but there was never enough of an indication of anything happening with her, so I just waited and waited and waited…and then a random series of events were made up at the end and she was forgotten about.

      I’m delighted that the first response on this is someone agreeing with me, mainly because I expected to get universally pilloried and I just don’t see what the fuss is about this book 🙂

  2. haha this may have been a pain for you to write but it was jolly entertaining to read. It was quite amusing to see you had picked the right culprit but just missed the point at which he did the deed and instead decided on Melissa and Thomas! I probably got less annoyed by this book (reading it in one sitting rather than 17), but in other respects I think our thoughts tallied, especially with the second chapter and its handling of abortion. Thanks for the link up and a certain furry face at the half way point seemed quite familiar!

  3. I remember being fooled first time I read the book, possibly because I didn’t really want the killer to be who it turned out to be. Also, despite that misdirection around the timings, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me – out of character and arguably out of reason too. And I was expecting some twist in the end, and that never came after the dying declaration – I found the whole thing felt very flat in the end because of that.

    I think it’s pretty solid and quite impressive as a “book”, but just s0-so as a “detective story” – of course it’s difficult to be both successfully. Generally, I liked the characters, though Rosie irritated me more and more as I went along on this reading, and you do get drawn into their world. Anyway, I think the book has a good reputation although I’m not sure it deserves to.

    • Clearly Brand wants to keep that final-line revelation for how it was achieved — she did the same thing in The Crooked Wreath — and it feels from the mipoint onwards as if everything is a slave to that happening: you’re never shown enough to be able to feel the revelations when they come, and insted just told “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened…and so he’s the killer”. Nothing about the solution encourages any retroactive consideration — even the thing with the garage door, and that would have been so simple — and there’s no way to feel blown away because there was never any chance of playing along and so there’s no surprise.

      You’re absolutely right: it does have a good reputation, and it does not deserve to. Hell, there isn’t even an unreliable narrator to blame, it just never shows you anything to contradict or contribute to the eventual conclusion.

  4. Am I the only one who briefly considered that the baby might be the killer? Really!? Not even for a bit? Ok, I watch too many horror movies…

    I’ll fly in the face of what seems to be the pattern so far and say that this may well be one of my favorite books. Madness you say, but I can’t help hoping it was the stuttered nature of your reading experience that did you in on this one. Your review brought back so many tiny points that I love about Brand’s writing and the way that the story unfolds.

    I really think this is a clever one. What other book has the actual killer arrested and under trial for the entire second half of the book, only for the surprise twist to be that they really did commit the murder?!?! And don’t you find yourself wanting anything other than the guilt to be true? Brand builds these beautiful characters and the impending guilt of any one of them really shows the human consequences of murder – and not only for the victim or their relations.

    What sticks with me was the way that the truth came out. It’s been a year since I read it, so I don’t remember the exact details, but Brand unfolded things such that the truth clicked in my mind a page or two before she actually stated what happened. And I like to think it was meant that way. It reminds me a bit of Suddenly at His Residence where the “how” of the impossibility is revealed – a brief statement is made, and the reader is left with the dignity of piecing things together on their own.

    I was really concerned that you’d see through this one (similar to how you immediately saw through a particular Carr…) and in a way you did. But the clever bit is that the reader doesn’t consider the order in which particular things may have happened. Hell, Brand gives us the actual solution half way through the book and yet it never struck me until those final pages the ramification it had on the very first scene.

    It’s funny because I recall Cockrill figuring out the phone trick being a massive mid-novel reveal (shades of Till Death Do Us Part, although probably closer to the clever bit in Fatal Descent…). And then somehow you get distracted from that solution because the pieces never fit together. Brand even kind of waves things in your faces with the whole (admittedly silly) bit about how a dying person doesn’t lie. And yet I still never pieced it together.

    Beautiful.

    • Everything — everything — about how the truth comes out, though, is simply information you’re told, and nothing you have a chance of deducing or being involved in yourself. This is crime writing pure and simple, there’s no detection here in the least — it’s much more in the domestic suspense arm of Margaret Millar and her ilk (right era for it, certainly) than it is the legit clues and reasoning of The Crooked Wreath or Death of Jezebel.

      The phone trick is so ridiculous that, as I believe I said, it felt like Brand straining desperately to include some sort of “clever” idea just to pep things up a bit midway. Not just a doorbell being made to sound exactly like a phone, not just being mistaken for the phone despite ringing in another part of the house, not just the fact there the trick was done without any knowledge Raoul was still there, and not just the fact that with everyone getting lost in the fog Tedward can find his way unerringly to the hosue to kill Raoul without so much as a hitch…but all of those things at once, plus the fact that this stuff piles up around every other key point and we’re never given the chance to explore or refute or engage with it.

      Ugh, no The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it.

  5. Actually, this is not easy to do at all!!!!!!! I don’t particularly like to sit in my house and read; I like cafes and such. So I would bring the book, read a chapter, and then fumble with dictating notes in an e-mail to myself on my phone. Then I would have to wait till I got home to assemble the notes on my computer. It was cumbersome and time-consuming, and the only reason I would do it again are the literally thousands of fans clamoring for more!

    (Signed)
    I. M. DeLuded

    • I certainly am deluded if I’m telling myself that thousands of people are desperate to read more of this from me. Not that it’s not lovely to share this with the twelve of you, but thousands is pushing it somewhat… 🙂

  6. I actually started to suspect Rosie near the end of the book; everyone had been so patronising about her it started to feel like deliberate misdirection (and I wondered if she’d been poisoned by one of the aforementioned patronising friends or relations to protect her from the humiliation of trial and execution). I think you’re right that basically anyone could have done it. On the other hand, I did like how it reminded me of the Poisoned Chocolates Case in spinning out all these different solutions based on the initial facts – and Mrs Evans is wonderful.

    • I would have liked more from Mrs Evans, it has to be said. A lot of the time it feels like she’s off on her own thing rather than actually part of the story — though that may be due to my suspecting her for a large chunk of this — and when she and Cockie finally sit down and she starts confessing her affectations it’s quite charming. And I guess I saw the “throwing things out of the window” behaviour as something that would have plot relevance, but it’s actually a nice way to characterise that particular strata of old age, infirment, and dismissal: why not acup a little, eh? 🙂

  7. Thanks for this experiment JJ. I’m definitely in the ‘loved it’ camp, but I think you’ve made a lot of fair points about the book’s weaknesses that I can’t deny.

    I read it almost in one go, and I think that makes a big difference. I often find myself around 40% of the way through a mystery book wishing that I was rereading it so that I could appreciate it with the benefit of hindsight. Sadly my TBR pile is too big for this to be feasible, but it does mean that I tend to ‘go with the flow’ and overlook the kinds of plot hole that you’ve spotted. I did however spend most of the second half of the book wavering between Tedward and Thomas and not wanting it to be either of them.

    Despite agreeing with you about some of the more problematic elements I’d still consider myself a fan of this book. The characters are so well-drawn, particularly the women. I saw a lot of my younger, bratty self in Rosie and Melissa and a fair bit of my current self in Matilda (having a toddler of my own I can assure you it’s a brave woman who tries to stop breastfeeding one who isn’t ready!). I also loved the grandmother and wished we saw more of her. It might be my depraved mind, but I assumed that the panting was linked to her rather fervent imagination and gift for fantasy, ahem!

    • Thanks, Carol, it was overall a lot of fun…I just wish I’d enjoyed the book more overall. I find it odd that it’s so far removed from the style of the earlier Cockrofts — e.g., you have no hope in hell of solving this one beyond guesswork — especially as it goes to great lengths to remind you about Death of Jezebel.

      The characters are in the most superb, I totally agree — I fell in with their ways and their universe very quickly indeed, something I’ve not yet found to fail me in the Brands I’ve read to date (Green for Danger, The Crooked Wreath, Death of Jezebel, Tour de Force, and this one). With Christie you’re always looking out for the archetype, but Brand manages to fit people around each other in a way that really speaks of them living and sharing lives rather than simply being pieces of a puzzle; maybe that’s the problem here: the puzzle she wants to write requires a level of artifice that she’s not willing to sacrifice on.

      Either way, time reading is never wasted, and I’d always rather read something and know I don’t love it than spend years not being able to find it and wondering if I might’ve found it wonderful. I guess not every book can live up to our hopes for it…!

  8. I think Green for Danger is by far her best book, followed by Tour de Force, if you can accept the central implausibility. I also like Death in High Heels, though I don’t claim it’s a great mystery. Brand loved revolving suspicion but it gets kind of OTT in some of her books.

    • My favourite of hers thus far is Death of Jezebel, I think, followed by The Crooked Wreath — the whirligig merry-go-round of suspicion in those is fabulously wrought, but I can see how someone would get a little tired of it.

      When she’s on top form, she’s near unbeatable, and I’ll continue to chip away at the books of hers I find — massively curious about the Marie Celeste one, I have to say.

  9. Unlike you, I really enjoyed this novel.
    Sure it’s not fair play in the slightest. The clues aren’t really that solvable and the solution comes off as unfair and impossible to reach without guessing. I mean, I guessed the solution after the first 4 pages since Brand had to brag about how clever the misdirection was in the introduction to my edition. But still, even if it isn’t fair, it’s still one hell of a trick and it’s still one that impresses me to this day after many more detective novels.
    But I think this book really shines with its characters.
    The woman in this book are all so real in their personalaties and how they act. Mrs. Evans is just delightful and Rosie is a perfect depiction of a young girl in a modern world. And the last few lines. Ugh. They just instill this heartbreaking feeling in me that makes me reread them everytime I open the book or look at it.
    I guess I’m just becoming a “modern” mystery reader, caring more about those angsty detectives than proper clueing… 🤪

    • I think what really bothers me is that much had been made of how fair this was before Iread it, and so — and, in fairness, on the basis of brand’s other works — I was expecting it to be fair play. Remove the expectation of fairness and it’s pretty hard to fault, that one chapter of trial that just rehashes all the information to that point aside. The women are great, I absolutely agree, and Brand does a brilliant job of presenting you with various generations and their various perspectives without ever implying that one of them is “right” and other one is “wrong” — she simply gives you people with all the warts upon their head and stays as true to them as possible throughout the narrative.

      You’re right, too, about how this really does fit so much more in the modern idiom — all that frank talk of abortions, the visit to the morgue with its stitched-up corpse, the single-minded mother raising her child in a way that causes much public consternation…it’s very much on the vanguard in these ways, and might just perhaps be the most transitional piece of work I’ve read to try and put a foot in both schools at the appropriate time in the genre’s history. As a historical document it’s fasdcinating, but I was distinctly lead to believe it was a fair-play puzzle plot…hence my consternation!

  10. A piece of good news also.
    LRI just updated their website and added a picture of all the books in their catalouge. In it, at the very end, you can see copies of Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders and Paul Halters The Man Who Loved Clouds, two books that I’ve wanted for quite a while.
    Of course you probably already know this but just in case you don’t………..

  11. Pingback: Fog of Doubt Super Spoilery C-by-C Extravaganza | ravenscroftcloud

  12. The characters, humor, and freewheeling attitude are very appealing–I especially loved Matilda refusing to eat a casserole because “it looks like boiled handkerchiefs.” The mystery element is a total disaster, however.

    Among other things, the doorbell/telephone trick makes no sense. It is impossible that a) even one adult person would ever think of doing this; b) it was successfully carried out; and c) Cockrill would then independently have the same idea. This would never work, ever..

    Right up until she died, I was convinced that Rosie lied about receiving the phone call in the first place, either because she was the killer or to provide an alibi for Tedward. Strange that no one brings up that possibility. even as they’re picking apart everything else about the call.

    It’s extra-annoying because my edition has a foreword which is just nothing but Brand bragging about her impeccable cluing. Lies, all lies.

    • Thankfully, I was warned off reading any introduction — though, given the tendency of most introducers to forget that they’re writing something that most readers will encounter before reading the book for the first time, I tend to skip them anyway since frequently far too much is given away.

      Anyway. I’m delighted to discover that it’s not simply my own blindness that fails to see any merit in the mystery side of this one. Scott Ratner — if you’re out there — we can agree that this most certain;y isn’t fair play, and is perhaps the antithesis of a fair-play mystery…

  13. Thanks for the review, and I confess I’m still of two minds about the blow-by-blow approach as a format for evaluation. *dodges bullets 😅* I quite enjoyed this title by Brand, if anything, for its human drama, rather than for its puzzle. I confess this was one novel where I had a hypothesis within the first few chapters – a hypothesis that proved right.

    I’m excited about the book you’ll be reviewing this week – it’s meant to be one of Taylor’s best, and it’s meant to have an impossible crime of sorts? 🧐

    • Hahaha, you’re in two minds about this blow-by-blow account approach?! I enjoyed doing it, and I enjoyed the challenge of capturing every relevant point in a mere 200 words for each chapter — including quotes, lest we forget! — but I think I’d oly do it again on something where there’s a genuine chance of solving the crime…and how am I going to know that without reading said book, and committing to this style of post, to begin with? Human drama, yes, I would agree; this is certainly not a format suited to the exploration of a human drama.

      As for the Phoebe Atwood Taylor — it might sort of be an impossible crime sort of a bit, but it’s hamstrung by a) not really establishing sufficient closedness or limitations on the core situation to really qualify, and b) putting the method of murder in the title of the book.

      No, I’m not kidding.

  14. Well, I’ve read it now and if I’d done it this way, I’d have been in the need for a wig a la Mrs Evans due to tearing my hair out. Spent most of the book convinced that Rosie lied about the phone call and had somehow nipped out and done it while Jedward… sorry, Tedward was lost in the fog. Which of course involved her creating the fog in the first place. I take the point that having the guilty party on trial is interesting, but the rest of the book needs to be as well.

    I killed Raoul.
    No, I killed Raoul.
    No, I killed Raoul and so did my wife.

    Sigh… Glad I found a cheap copy….

    Review soon over at the blog.

    • Yeah, it’s certainly a frustrating experience. I may not be a fan of Green for Danger, but I can see how there’s plenty in there to like. The popularity of this — and especially the perception of it as fair play — baffles me. Man, had I known it was thiis poor I wouldn’t have invited others to read it…

  15. Pingback: London Particular aka Fog Of Doubt by Christianna Brand – In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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