Forgotten Book: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand

I first heard of Christianna Brand sometime last year when there was a flurry of posts about her in the blogosphere. Since she was compared to Agatha Christie I was really keen to read her. Finally, this fortnight it did happen. Heads You Lose is her second book and the first that features Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police. The Inspector would subsequently appear in seven more of her books.

Stephen Pendock, the squire of the village, is playing host to Lady Hart and her twin grand-daughters, Venetia and Francesca. Also among the guests are Venetia’s husband Henry Gold and another young man James Nicholl. Pendock is a troubled man, however. He has fallen in love with Francesca though he is in his fifties and she is years junior to him. In fact, he has seen her grow in front of his eyes. He also feels that Francesca and James are in love with each other. Compounding the problem is the presence of Grace Morland, a neighbour of Pendock who is attracted towards him and is thus envious of his (increasingly) obvious attraction towards Francesca.

 The tension among the group erupts on an ill-fated evening and by the the morning a murder has been committed. Grace Morland is found dead, her head brutally hacked away from her body. There follows the entrance of Pippi Le May, a cousin of Grace and a stage-actress. And with her entrance, secrets old and new come tumbling out.

The problem I had with the book was not with the mystery which was pretty lukewarm. It was fairly easy to guess the identity of the murderer with the ending being one of the most trite that I have ever read. It was the class-attitude depicted in the book that really troubled me. Written when England was at war, it was most disconcerting to read about the upper-class – their snobbery and their world-view. Venetia and Francesca are the golden children of England. Beautiful, aristocratic, well-read, well-travelled, they are born (and married) into money and privilege. On the other hand, we have Grace and Pippi, two women who have none of the attraction and sophistication of the twins. Born in strained circumstances they are depicted as vacuous, grasping, and vicious. Sorry, but having read Anthony Gilbert’s The Musical Comedy Crime which depicted an actress’ struggle for survival, my sympathies were more with those born without the silver-spoon than those who simply had to wave a (well-manicured) hand for people to fall all over themselves to do their bidding.

BTW, the twins have a dog called Aziz whose mother was Emiss Esmoor (Miss Moor). These are two characters from E.M. Forster’s Passage to India and somehow this fact is supposed to be extremely hilarious. It did not strike me as funny which in a way is sad because where the book does score is in the depiction of certain comic scenes as in the reflections of the maid Gladys and at the coroner’s inquest.

All in all, not a very good introduction to Brand but I still look forward to reading other mysteries of her. In fact, more than the story I liked the history of the book I held in my hands. It was a Services edition and apparently belonged to the RAF.


First Line: GRACE MORLAND was sitting on the terrace outside Stephen Pendock’s house, putting the finishing touches to a wishy-washy sketch of the Old Church Tower in the snow.

Title: Heads You Lose

Author: Christianna Brand

Publication Details: London: The British Publishers Guild (Guild Books No. S 143), 1944.

First Published: 1942

Pages: 144

Other Books read of the same author: None


Submitted for various challenges.


Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books. Please head over there for the other entries.

10 thoughts on “Forgotten Book: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand

  1. I had similar problems when I read this book, and it was the first Christianna Brand book I read also. I found most of the characters so vapid that I could not care for them at all, and I did not like the ending. But I did read Green for Danger soon after and enjoyed it a lot more. Loved your review.


  2. I read this an age ago – I remember thinking it was OK but the fact that I don;t remember much of it probably tells its own story and all the comments you make make me retrospectively like it less frankly – thanks Neeru, I must re-read some Brand and see what I think. I do remember CAT AND MOUSE much better – it's not a Cockrill story but I truly recommend it as a particularly good neo-Gothic.


  3. Neeru – I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like this more than you did. Brand's Green For Danger is, in my opinion, better. Still some of the class issues, but not nearly as pronounced, and some interesting atmosphere.


  4. Thanks a lot Tracy. When I read your review, I also felt that our views were very similar. GREEN FOR DANGER is a book I'm really looking forward to.


  5. Margot, Class and race issues don't generally perturb me in the sense of hating the book. Being a reflection of the times the books were/ are written/ set, I just take them with a pinch of salt. But occasionally, they do become unpalatable.


  6. Neer, the brutal murder, the hacking of the head from the body, doesn't sound anywhere close to a Christie victim. Nonetheless, Christianna Brand is a new writer for me and I'll look for her books. The Services edition is really neat—might be worth (no pun) holding on to.


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