Brand stopped publishing novels about her best-loved hero, birdlike Inspector Cockrill of Kent, over 30 years before she died in 1988. But Cockrill (Green for Danger, 1944, etc.) lives again in nine stories, the three-act title play, and a not-very-biographical profile, all written between 1954 and 1984. In truth, Cockie (we never even find out his first name) is one of the most retiring detectives in fiction, popping up on murder scenes without any confidant, any obvious domestic ties, or any tics except a relentless talent for catching other characters in lies. And those other characters are even less distinctive: stock matriarchs, patriarchs, and blackmailers created only to get killed by their chattering friends, relatives, and victims. Where Brand excels over
other Golden Age writers—including Georgette Heyer, the one she resembles most closely—is in the sheer ingenuity of her plotting: an ingenuity not hoarded, like Heyer’s or Agatha Christie’s, for a single idea, a foolproof new murder weapon or an unbreakable alibi, but lavished throughout the thrust and parry of each whodunit or inverted tale of known criminals sweating to escape detection (a formula she handles especially deftly), from the apparently murderous stage Othello of “After the Event” to the double-crossing twins of “Blood Brothers” to the clever two-page “Alleybi.”
Within her chosen realm, in fact, Brand stumbles only when she gets too clever, as in “The Spotted Cats,” whose merciless twists on its Gaslight model explain why it’s remained unpublished till now.