Christianna Brand, author of this fine work of detective fiction, was one of the most popular writers in the Golden Age of British mystery writing. Her first novel was based off of a fantasy she had about killing her coworker. Green for Danger fits in well with her other mysteries, such as Death in High Heels, The Honey Harlot, and Court of Foxes. In fact, the film adaptation of Green for Danger is thought to be one of the best film adaptations of a classic British mystery ever.
The events of the book take place in a military hospital during World War II. The first chapter introduces the readers, through a series of short cutaways, to the suspects, all of whom have been posted at the same hospital. It also serves to give us some background on each character, such as their personalities and desires. The head nurse, Marion Bates, is murdered after revealing the accidental death of a patient under anesthesia was not so accidental. This connects back to the title, as a reference to the color-coding used on the gas canisters of anaesthetists. Inspector Cockrill, Brand’s most famous character, is set upon the case. After a second murder attempt, Inspector Cockrill restages the operation in order to uncover the identity of the murderer.
The whimsically eccentric Inspector Cockrill has his work cut out for him with suspects such as the unintentionally attractive Gervase Eden, Barney Barnes, who presided over the original operation, and Esther Sanson, who so dearly wants to help others in spite of the guilt she feels at leaving her hypochondriac mother to come work at the hospital.
This is a lovely example of the cozy family of mysteries, and fits quite snugly in the tradition of detective and mystery fiction. The novel and its events emphasize plot progression and character development over scenes of action. The relatively small setting of the hospital ensures that there is a rather closed circle of suspects. There is also a romantic subplot, as many cozies have, in this case between Barnes and Eden over Barnes’ fiancée, Nurse Frederica Linley. Inspector Cockrill is a professional detective, and as is the rule with detective fiction, any information that he gains is immediately revealed to us as the readers. Finally, the murderer is punished, though by their own hand rather than in a court of law, so there is some amount of closure granted to the readers and the characters alike.
In conclusion, Green for Danger is an excellent novel by an author who assuredly knows the craft well. Brand made efficient use of the wartime setting, as the constantly looming threat of an attack by German bomber planes gave the entire atmosphere on the novel a unique level of tension. The movie is quite faithful to the events of the book, as far as film adaptations of novels go, with a streamlined yet still satisfying version of the same plot. This novel is a masterpiece of mystery. If you enjoy the works of Brand, finely crafted works of mystery literature, or brilliant mystery films, then I advise you to look no further than Green for Danger.
Brand, Christianna. Green for Danger. Dodd, Mead and Company, 1944.
Gordon, David; Kelleghan, Fiona. “Christiana Brand.” Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition, January 2008, pp. 1-4.
Green for Danger. Directed by Sidney Gilliat, performances by Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray, and Rosamund John, Pinewood Studios, 1946.