Tour de Force (Christianna Brand)

By Christianna Brand

First published: UK, Michael Joseph, 1955; US, Scribner, 1955


My review

2000

One of the best examples of the exotic tour-party trick.  Brand’s dialogue is as amusing (and occasionally irritating) as ever, and it is a fun read, as false theories are set up and exploded.  The characterisation is good, especially the effect of stress (is this Brand’s trademark?)—a fine contrast with the normal idea of holiday (and Inspector Cockrill vows never to leave England again).  There are some very funny scenes, particularly the one in the dagger shop, as well as a satire on the corrupt police force all foreigners axiomatically have.  On the negative side, several of the characters are annoying, particularly Mr. Cecil.  All in all, a good, lively ingenious tale of blood under the Spanish sun.

 

2004

While London Particular is subtler, more sophisticated and much grimmer, this probably has Brand’s best surprise solution.  We are told the truth two-thirds of the way through—and never bother to ask whether it is the truth after all.  For the rest, Cockrill doesn’t do much detection but a great deal of thinking and theorising, continually re-examining known facts in a new light to see whether they can illuminate the murder by stabbing of the blackmailing Vande Lane (half of the novelist Louvaine Barker) on the island of San Fernando.  Despite the sunshine and joyous malice, the book is fairly tense—as with Green for Danger and London, there is a real sense of being caught in an inescapable trap, only this time Cocky himself is caught and (briefly) imprisoned.  Fortunately, however, after a dramatic suicide, the right person falls into the trap—and the reader kicks himself for not seeing the significance of SPOILER wet hair and hair-dye, a rolled-up swimming costume, changes in the emotional temperature, and, above all, the absence of sun-burn.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Julian Symons, 5th August 1955):

Miss Christianna Brand’s readers are also taken on holiday in Tour de Force.  No esoteric significance need be expected from Miss Brand’s books; they are highly accomplished and quite unashamed detective stories, written with much ingenuity, gaiety of colour and bright, joyful malice.  Mr. Cecil, the couturier, one of the brittle spinster gentlemen in whom the fashion trade is said to abound, is an excellent comic treatment of a modern stock character.