CHRISTIANNA BRAND – Fog of Doubt. US hardcover edition: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953. Previously published in the UK as London Particular, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1952. US paperback reprint editions: Dell 881, 1956; Carroll & Graf, 1984,1995. UK paperback: Penguin, 1955.

   Fog of Doubt is, Christianna Brand states, her own favorite of all of her novels, and its amazing construction sets up seven suspects all in a row, positions each one as the killer, then eliminates them one by one till none are left.

   (The dotty grandmother likens their situation to the notorious Ten Little N-word nursery rhyme is a passage we can no longer cite.) Then one of the seven emerges, the impossibility overcome, and Cockrill has solved yet another case.


   The reader has to visualize the floor plan of two very different houses, for the solution depends on being able to “see” what is happening in both, and not just the floor plan but a good 3-D working knowledge of upstairs, downstairs, on the stairs, and what’s outside the windows of each house.

   Each belongs to a doctor: in one, lonely bachelor Ted Edwards (“Tedward”) keeps his office and moons over the lovely, Rose Birkett-like Rosie Evans, recently returned from a finishing school on the Continent and secretly pregnant with a mystery baby.

   In the other, Rosie lives and sulks and plans an abortion, while her staid older brother, Dr. Thomas Evans, may be the only character in the book from whom her pregnancy is a secret.


   His wife, Matilda, is busy with her own housekeeping and the care of a two year old, Emma; his grandmother, the dotty one, throws furniture from the windows and gets lost in the bodice-ripping Valentino silents of her youth. A sort of secretary, Melissa Weeks, lives in the basement mooning over men; and nearby a communist organizer, Damien Jones, wants to do the right thing by the errant, blowsy Rosie.

   When an unexpected visitor from Europe arrives, on the night of the worst fog in ages (a “London particular,” which Brand used for the UK title of the novel), a bloody murder occurs in the family’s midst — and no one, oddly enough, hears a sound…


   I didn’t really “buy” that in this one, Cockie is supposed to be a friend of the family. His friendship never seems convincing and they never explain how any of them came to know him. And, as the plot wears on, and one suspect after another becomes first the top suspect, then gets eliminated, the story presently turns on Brand’s less appealing characters, so the second half of the book has its longueurs.

   But on the whole Fog of Doubt is amazing, and some of its characters will live forever for their humor, charm, and valiant efforts to make sense of a suddenly violent world. Matilda Evans in particular anticipates Celia Fremlin’s trademark harried wives and mothers, with lives poised in an eternal and uneasy balance between tragedy and comedy; she might well be the mother of Lady Lydia Timms, the irrepressible housewife heroine of Peter Dickinson’s classic The Lively Dead (1975), reviewed earlier on this blog by Steve Lewis.