Monday, September 18, 2023

The Crooked Wreath aka Suddenly at His Residence (1946) by Christianna Brand

🖼️ The Crooked Wreath is book #3 of Inspector Cockrill series. It was originally published in the UK by different title: Suddenly at His Residence. I have ranted before on how publishers annoyingly change titles when publishing cross country. For this book, however, I prefer the US title: The Crooked Wreath. I happened to listen to the audiobook version with the same title. 'Suddenly at His Residence' seems to reveal too much of the book. By reading the title, I immediately guessed the victim-to-be; it must be a wealthy man. The crime is perhaps within the family, and the motive would be inheritance. And so it is what the book is about!

🖼️ Sir Richard Marsh is a wealthy man; the owner of Swanswater estate, but he's turned a bitter man. When his wife, Serafita, was still alive, he had cheated on her. After her death, Sir Richard married Bella, his mistress. But, perhaps out of guilt, he made in his house a shrine for Serafita, complete with her portrait, and a wreath. Her ballet shoes were also kept around the house (she was a ballerina). Every anniversary of her death, he made his family gather around this shrine to do a kind of memorial ceremony. And so, long after her death, Serafita is still 'resided' in her house.

🖼️ This year his grandchildren attend the memorial. There are Philip, with his wife Ellen, Claire (who is having an affair with Philip), and Peta. Those three are his grandchildren by his deceased wife. Also attend the service are Edward, his grandson by Bella; and Sir Richard's young lawyer, Stephen, who is in love with Peta. Annoyed by these young people's lack of respect, Sir Richard threatened to disinherit them.

🖼️ On that fatal night Sir Richard spent the night at the lodge, where, he spitefully stated, he would make a new will. The next morning, the family found him dead of poisoning, while the will was nowhere to be found. No one could have entered the lodge that night because the gravel path was freshly rolled by the gardener. And when his body was first found, the path was still pristine. How, then, the murder could have been done?

🖼️ Inspector Cockrill is investigating the case, however, his role in the story was passive - too passive for a detective story. The deduction was mostly done by the suspects. They alternately come up with solutions of who must have been the murderer, and how it must have been done. It means that we get to suspect each of the family member along the story, and each of them is quite plausible.

🖼️ This story reminds me of Heads You Lose; closed-circle of suspect (within the family); Cockrill's passive involvement and his good relationship with the family; and the psychological suspense in the end. This one's ending is unsettling, though. Cockrill relies too much on the suspects, I think it would've been better had the story been without detective. And the dramatic, theatrical ending is rather unreal for me. It could be good for a Hollywood movie, but rather unsuited for the tone of the whole story.

🖼️ To conclude, it is an intriguing locked-room mystery, brilliantly written, but with unsettling ending, and lack of detective role.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Locked Room Mystery 


  1. I find these older locked-room mysteries fun to read.

    1. Yes, I am very drawn to vintage locked-room mystery too.

  2. I still haven't read any Christianna Brand. One of these years!

    1. There's so many we'd like to read, but, alas, not enough time, right? (-_-')


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