Mary Christianna Milne Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Christianna Brand was born Mary Christianna Milne in Malaya in December, 1907, and grew up there and in India. She was sent to England to attend a Franciscan convent school in Somerset, an area of England known for its beauty. Her happiness at school received a rude upset when her father lost all of his money; she had to begin earning her own living at the age of seventeen.

Brand went through a rapid succession of ill-paid jobs, mostly in sales, but also in modeling, professional ballroom dancing, receptionist and secretarial work, shop assistant work, interior design, and governess work. At one point, she opened a club for working girls in a slum section of London. Her financial prospects took a turn for the better when she met and fell in love with a young surgeon, Roland Lewis. She married him in 1939 and became Mary Christianna Lewis in her personal life.

Before her marriage, Brand had already begun to write. Her decision to try detective stories had behind it no previous experience in fiction writing. (It is said that she wrote her first book, Death in High Heels, 1941, while working as a salesgirl, as a way to fantasize about killing a coworker.) She nevertheless was soon a success, and her second novel won a prize of one thousand dollars offered by Dodd, Mead and Company for its prestigious Red Badge series. Her early success proved to be no fluke; by the time of the publication of Green for Danger (1944), she had come to be generally regarded as one of the most important mystery writers of her time.

Brand once more did the unexpected by ceasing to write mystery novels according to her hitherto successful recipe. Instead, she turned to short stories. After the appearance of Starrbelow (1958), she did not write another mystery novel for ten years. Her writing career, however, was by no means over. She had in the meantime tried her hand at several other varieties of fiction, including historical romances and screenplays. Although she never achieved the renown for these that her mysteries had brought her, her Nurse Matilda series of novels for children gained wide popularity. She returned to the ranks of mystery novelists in the late 1960’s. She died in on March 11, 1988, in the arms of her husband of fifty years, Roland Lewis.