Tour De Force (1955) by Christianna Brand

This has been quite an overdue re-read for me. Many eons ago I’m sure Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery blog, did a post about this very book and at the time I blithely said I needed to re-read this one… In the interim many other bloggers have got around to trying this one out from Dan at The Reader is Warned, to JJ at The Invisible Event and Ben at The Green Capsule. So, 6 and a half years since I first read this book, I have finally re-read it.

In this book Inspector Cockrill is off on a package holiday, a tour of Italy, of sorts. As the plane lands and the tour party begin their journey, we are introduced to the various holidaymakers. There’s a novelist called Louvaine Barker, who is forever trying DIY make up and fashion tips from magazines, we have Mr Cecil a fashion designer, then there’s Leo and Helen Rodd; the former an ex-pianist due to the loss of an arm whilst cycling in the countryside, as well as Miss Trappe and Vanda Lane. Conducting the tour is the suave Fernando Gomez, who is keen to make a hit on Miss Trappe, who is said to come from Park Lane. It goes without saying that as the first couple of chapters unfold, many a secret is hinted at, secrets which their owners are keen to hide at all costs. We also see Leo making quite a hit with the ladies of the group, especially Louvaine. The close of chapter 2 has a foreshadowing effect, heralding the island of San Juan el Pirata, as the location for an impending murder. But who will be the victim? The local policing methods are far from ideal and they are more than happy to arrest and execute anyone at random from Fernando to even Inspector Cockrill himself! The stakes are high, but with no forensics to go on and some very slippery alibis, this could be Cockrill’s hardest case to solve…

Overall Thoughts

There are a lot of reasons for loving this book and the beginning is certainly one of them. Inspector Cockrill’s flaccid enthusiasm for his fellow holidaymakers is delightfully depicted. He really isn’t the sort of person you can imagine enjoying such a holiday, which makes it all the more fun for the reader. He’s not even keen on flying:

‘Inspector Cockrill looked out and down and saw nothing but a very small patch of grass which they were certainly going to miss and a very large building composed entirely of glass which they were quite certainly going to hit.’

The way Brand introduces the whole party before homing in on a handful of characters is also skilfully done with her characterising of different holidaymaker types:

‘inexperienced ones who never could make out whether you called this place Mill-an or Mil-ann, experienced ones who phased them all by calling it Milarno […] robust ones who drank water out of taps and confounded the experienced ones by not going down with bouts of dysentery, anxious ones who refused all shellfish, raw fruit and unbottled beverages and went down with dysentery before they had even started…’

Adding to the sometimes less salubrious destinations of holiday tours, we get wonderful lines delineating setting such as this one: ‘And next morning there was a dip in the glorious, mud-coloured Mediterranean, sweetened by the sewers of Rapallo.’ More disturbing is the fact that everyone still went into the sea…

As in other works, the author unfurls a volley of false solutions at the reader, some more seemingly easy to decide as false than others, with Brand slipping in the truth between the lies, of course. This worked in my favour for the re-read, as whilst I thought I had remembered who had done the deed, it turns out I had only remembered one of the wrong solutions. Equally Brand concludes the book in what I feel is her trademark way, with plenty of oomph, surprise and a definite thread of poignancy. Whilst Inspector Cockrill is the main investigative figure, I enjoyed how he often opens out the case for the discussion, amongst the suspects, critiquing their thoughts internally. I felt this approach encouraged an armchair sleuthing role for the reader themselves, though you would need to be one smart cookie to figure this one out in its entirety (so not me basically). So overall, I would say this is a strong read and also a very apt one, given the summer holidays looming. Though maybe you shouldn’t read it if you’re going on a holiday tour…

Rating: 4.5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): On an Island

Calendar of Crime: February (7) Book Title with a Word Starting with the Letter F

Also is it just me, or does Brand have the characters suggest solutions which can also be found in Christie’s books? I know there is one blatant reference to The Murder on the Orient Express, but I feel like there were others as well (I won’t mention them, for fear of spoilers.)

11 comments

  1. It’s just an amazing book. It may be my least favorite of her more famous mysteries, but that’s a meaningless statement because it’s just so good. Points taken off because it feels slightly long in the final third up until the jaw dropping finale.

    Tour de Force may have one of my favorite crime scene clues – an absolutely brilliant piece of evidence that sticks out as being perplexing but then turns out to provide one of the keys to the whole misdirection. That JJ saw through the twist in this book is beyond belief. Much respect, although I feel bad that he missed out on a head spinner.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I won’t deny that the moment of reveal has a superb impact, but good heavens wasn’t it ever a long time coming. And part of the reason I was able to see through this was that, unlike with Death of Jezebel, the false solutions are atrocious. Her characters remain wonderful, however, and I can still recall far more of the casts of Brand’s books than probably any other character medley of the next two most-memorable authors combined.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the review. I read this a few years ago, and recall having slightly mixed feelings. In that although I caught on to its main twist in the tale, and couldn’t do so for “Suddenly at His Residence” – I still thought it was the more engaging and bold story of the two.

    Your mention of Brand alluding to solutions to Christie’s novel is an interesting one, and in more than one way, “Tour de Force” finds its counterpart in “Evil under the Sun”.

    Glad you enjoyed it! 😊

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  3. I don’t think this is the best book ever, or even the best book by Brand (Green for Danger every time, one of my all-time top 10) BUT I think the trick, the twist, is one of the best ever, absolutely jaw-dropping and amazing, and when you read it again knowing it is so impressive the way she does it. And JJ guessed that? Wow.
    the rest of the book is enjoyable enough, but nothing special. and boy does she always get carried away with the false solutions, it’s not just this book.
    But will forgive her anything for the basis of this plot…

    Like

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