Inspector Cockrill is heading off on holiday – a package holiday to Italy. He is less than enthused by his travelling companions, but as the group settles into their hotel on the island of San Juan el Pirata, bonds begin to form between the holidaymakers. Romance begins to blossom, some appropriate, some less so, but tensions begin to form as well. And soon, inevitably, murder strikes…
Unfortunately, everyone has a seeming ironclad alibi for the crime, namely Inspector Cockrill himself – all of the suspects were in his eyeline when the murder took place. With the local police having their own agenda (namely arresting and executing anyone they feel like), it falls to Cockrill to find the truth. But when the killer strikes again, there seems a reasonable chance that no one is getting off the island alive.
Tour De Force was Christianna Brand’s eighth mystery novel and, I think, the sixth outing for Inspector Cockrill. To my slight surprise, I’ve read all of the preceding books – Heads You Lose, Green For Danger, Suddenly At His Residence, Death Of Jezebel and London Particular. The reason I’m surprised at that is that I genuinely didn’t realise that I’d read that many of her books. People in my corner of the reading world tend to rave about Brand’s work but for the most part, she’s never quite clicked for me. Not that I haven’t enjoyed her work – I think I’d say that I did really like all of the preceding titles that I did really enjoy them, with the exception of London Particular – and she has a very distinctive voice, but they’ve never quite clicked with me. Even the legendary Death Of Jezebel has a little bit too much going on in the solution – they really stuck a SPOILER in the SPOILER?
So what about Tour De Force?
I’ve mentioned that recently – well, for the past few months – I’ve had trouble getting into a book. If it doesn’t grab me instantly, I’ve got to lock myself away with it to absorb the first few chapters. That’s what I did with this one, and it certainly worked. I’d recommend reading this all the way to the murder and you’ll probably find yourself hooked. It’s definitely a book that needs reading in largish chunks to absorb the atmosphere and get to know the characters.
As for the mystery – well, it’s an impressive deception on the part of Brand. While it isn’t really an impossible crime, it’s certainly a puzzler and while everything is there for the reader to piece together, as is usual for Brand, everything is there for a number of multiple fake endings. It’s a gambit that only works in the hands of a great mystery writer – heck, even Christie fluffed it once – but Brand plays it just right here.
I think there’s a possibility that this might be my favourite Brand title so far – I do need to give Green For Danger another look soon – and there are still gaps in my reading. But there are affordable copies of this out there on the second hand website, and I can heartily recommend this if you haven’t read it yet.