Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Christianna Brand, Fog of Doubt

Christianna Brand, Fog of Doubt Road © 1953; this edition 2011

This is the story of an English family, with complications.  The principals are Thomas and Matilda Evans, a married couple with a small child; Rosie, Thomas’s (20-years-younger than he) sister (and recently returned to England from a school in Switzerland); Thomas’s grandmother; Melissa, Thomas’s secretary and family servant; Tedward (Thomas Edwards), Thomas’s partner in his medical practice; assorted acquaintances; and Inspector Cockrill (Cockie). Known to the family from earlier goings-on.  Oh, and Matilda’s one-time lover, Raoul Vernet, who has come to London for the purpose of communicating something important to her.

Rosie, who is (it seems) in her late teens, and pregnant.  She’s trying to find someone, almost anyone, to have an abortion.  Among the people she approaches is Tedward, who has conceived a hopeless passion for her.  Rosie manages to tell everyone a different story about how, and by whom, she became pregnant.  When she finally pitches up at Tedward’s home (and office), abut 9 PM, with one of London’s famous fogs rapidly making visibility essentially zero., she tells him a story suggesting that Raoul is the man.  While she’s there, the phone rings, and Rosie answers.  It’s Raoul, urgently asking for medical care; he has been assaulted and is at the Evans’ house.

Tedward gets the car out, and, on the way, manages to get lost in the fog.  When they arrive, Raoul is dead (in the hallway, clutching the phone, which has been pulled from the wall).  He has been battered by a blunt object (which turns out to be a mastoid mallet, a medical instrument).  As Rosie and Tedward arrive, Matilda is coming down from having helped her grandmother-in-law to bed and getting her own child down for the night; she has seen and heard nothing.

A London police superintendent investigates, the family calls Cockie to help them find out what’s happened.  Eventually the London cop arrests Thomas, but releases him in order to arrest Tedward.  Roughly the last third of the book is given over to an account of Tedward’s trial.

Brand wrote an interesting introduction (for the late 1970s republication), in which she talks about the background to the story, why she still likes it a lot, and says it is her favorite of all her books.  Personally, I found the Evans family pretty uninteresting and large stretches of the book seems like filler.  But the mystery and its investigation are nicely handled, and the conclusion does come as something of a surprise—although everything I as a reader needed to know is there in plain sight.  Not an outstanding piece of work, but a reasonable and generally satisfying read.