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Mystery Monday – Tour De Force

Tour De Force by Christianna Brand


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Like Cyril Hare, who wrote only about 10 mysteries before he died young, Christianna Brand wrote only eight whodunnits in the 1940s and early 1950s before raising a family became a bigger priority. Prior to this one, I’d read only Green for Danger (review here), regarded as a classic novel and movie.

As in Green for Danger, Tour De Force features a small group, any member of which had more or less the same motive and opportunity to do in the vic. Brand’s cat and mouse game involves giving the reader fair clues all the way down the line, so it’s excellent for readers who enjoy puzzlers.

Her series character is Detective Inspector Cockrill, nicknamed Cockie, which is as well since we never find out his first name. Bird-like but tough, ironic, mercifully quirk-free but middle-aged enough to be tender-hearted, his base is Kent, but in Tour De Force, he is  vacationing solo to San Juan el Pirata (John the Pirate). He is tired of his fellow tourists on the package tour even before he disembarks, and about a third into the novel is he tired of abroad as well.

Indeed, the tourists run the gamut. Cecil Prout is a fashion designer who doesn’t seem to mind who knows he’s gay. Miss Trapp is a lonely woman who is getting the glad eye from Fernando, a Spanish-British tour guide from Gibraltar. Leo Rodd used to be a concert pianist before he lost an arm and his wife Helen helps him so much that she gets on his nerves. A young woman with red hair and lots of flash, Louvaine Barker is in fact a noted novelist. Vanda Lane is a reclusive young woman who is man-hunting. All the characters are well-developed and convincing.

A member of the group turns out to be a blackmailer and ends up with a knife in the chest. Strangely, the suspects were on the beach in plain view of Inspector Cockrill. The local police, smugglers one and all, need a patsy to appease touristic opinion so anybody will do, evidence be damned. Cockie, then, must act to protect his fellow nationals from the horror of injustice at the hands of feudal  and sinister foreigners. Underling the farcical aspects of the incidents in the story, Cockie must don the “hapless overseas” mask in a funny scene hinging on the language barrier.

I must confess that at more than 250 pages any mystery starts to weary me and this was no exception. But that’s just me. The reveal is truly a rocker. Justifying the gutsy choice of a title for this novel. I’m sure that readers who like puzzlers a la Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr would get a kick out of this story.






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