Easily he best-known of Brand’s Inspector Cockrill mysteries, this clever and funny book was turned into a clever and funny film that is also one of the most atmospheric whodunits you will ever see. The setting is a secluded hospital now seconded to the war effort at the time of the Blitz.
“You think there wasn’t any murder, but there was, and I know who did it and how it was done and everything …”
The local postman, Joseph Higgins, is brought in to the hospital late one night and dies while under anaesthetic. Chief Inspector “Cockie” Cockrill is called in just for form’s sake as the death seems to have been natural, though doubt remains because no one understands quite why the man died. Only seven doctors and nurses knew he was in the hospital due to the late hour, so if it was murder only they could have committed it. Was it Barnes, who administered the anaesthetic? Was it the surgeon, Eden, catnip to all the ladies? What about the administrator, Moon? And what about the nurses? Woods, Sanson and Linley, they all seem to have something to hide? Everything changes when one of those nurses, who claimed she knew it was murder, is found laid out on the table in the operating theatre, dressed post mortem in her gown and stabbed several times. But are the two deaths connected? Then there is another murder attempt on one of the nurses …
A figure, gowned and masked in green, stood in the doorway, watching her; with something gleaming evilly in its gloved right hand.
The plot has a great central gimmick to explain how a seemingly impossible murder was engineered but it is Brand’s humour and waspish take on the characters that really gets your attention. As does the evocation of the war and the strange contrast this inevitably puts on investigating deliberate murder at a time when thousands died every day for years and years. Some of it may seem dated beyond its mere specific time set (for instances, the nurses really do seem to call each other “darling” an awful lot), but Brand was a superior author and this book deserves to be read and re-read and not just by fans of Golden Age Detection, not least because the author knows how to have a little fun along the way without actually breaking any rules or conventions of the genre.
“If this were a detective story, he’d be the murderer for a certainty …”
The Inspector Cockrill mysteries
- Heads You Lose (1941)
- Green for Danger (1944)
- Suddenly at His Residence (US title: The Crooked Wreath) (1946)
- Death of Jezebel (1948)
- London Particular (US title: Fog of Doubt) (1952)
- Tour de Force (1955)
- The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries from Inspector Cockrill’s Casebook (short stories, Crippen & Landru, 2002)
I have previously written about the film elsewhere, so will limit myself by saying that the film is cast perfectly, with a leaning towards comedy as evidenced by having the wonderful Alastair Sim as Cockie. Here for instance is a hilarious exchange that takes place when Barney explains how so-called “laughing gas” works:
Barnes: “I gave nitrous oxide at first, to get him under.”
Cockrill: Oh yes, stuff the dentist gives you, hmmm — commonly known as “laughing gas.”
Barnes: “Used to be — actually the impurities cause the laughs.”
Cockrill: “Oh, just the same as in our music halls.”
Sidney Gilliat sensibly keeps all the plot and major set-pieces, such as the atmospheric stalking at night round the hospital but most of the dialogue is new, as is the updating from the blitz to the doddlebug campaign. Beautifully shot with bags of gothic atmosphere by Wilkie Cooper, this is a true classic that manages to combine humour, really solid detection, a terrific cast and some genuinely suspenseful and scary sequences. It not only honours the book, it actually improves upon it – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
DVD Availability: Available on a decent DVD from Criterion in the US (with an audio commentary ported over from their old LaserDisc) and a frills-free version from Network in the UK.
Green for Danger (1946)
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Producer: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, Claude Guerney
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Art Direction: Peter Proud
Music: William Alwyn
Cast: Alastair Sim (Inspector Cockrill); Trevor Howard (Dr ‘Barney’ Barnes); Rosamund John (Nurse Esther Sanson); Leo Genn (Mr Eden); Sally Gray (Nurse Freddi Linley); Megs Jenkins (Nurse Woods), Moore Marriott (Joseph Higgins)
I submit this review for Bev’s 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘doctor’ category: