Friday, 25 November 2011

Forgotten Book - Tour De Force

Tour De Force by Christianna Brand, first published in 1955, is today a Forgotten Book, perhaps because, after it appeared, the author turned away from the genre for a number of years. But many connoisseurs think highly of it.

The novel features Brand’s most regular detective, Inspector Cockrill, and also a character who appeared in an earlier mystery (and therefore seems by definition to be an unlikely killer)  but the setting is unusual – a fictitious island off the Italian coast. Cockrill is part of a tour party, and Brand clearly enjoyed writing about the island, as she set a subsequent book there as well.

A member of the tour party is found dead. She has been stabbed to death with a dagger, and there is a suggestion that she may have liked to indulge in blackmail. She was also at the centre of some romantic convolutions, involving one of the suspects, Leo Rodd. Rodd is a one-armed musician who appears highly attractive to women, although he was so unpleasant that I struggled to figure out why any of them would bother with him. A map is supplied in the best Golden Age tradition.

A fairly obvious solution to the murder mystery is put forward, but then Brand supplies a clever and unexpected (at least by me) twist – although it depends on something so unlikely that I didn’t find it easy to suspend belief. There are various pleasing features in the book, not least the setting, but I’m afraid that Brand’s novels seem to me to suffer from a recurrent weakness. There is always a closed circle of suspects, which is fine, but those suspects always seem to succumb before long to “rising hysteria” and their highly-strung behaviour and chit-chat rather gets on my nerves. So it was here.

However, Brand’s skill with plot was formidable. She isn’t too far behind Christie and Berkeley in that respect and I also gather that in person she was truly charismatic. To my mind, her short stories tend to be more satisfying than her novels, because they are punchier and the characters in them don’t have time to grate on the reader. One of these days I will say more about her short stories, but for now I’ll rank Tour De Force as well-constructed, but a long way short of a masterpiece.  


Pauline Rowson said...

Hi Martin,

I also have this novel in my collection but I much prefer Green for Danger, and of course the excellent film of that novel.

Hope all is well with you and look forward to seeing you again at Crimefest 2012.


The Passing Tramp said...

I know exactly what you mean about the plot. It's rather brilliant and fairly clued, but also hard to swallow. Classic Golden Age baroque I think!

Patrick said...

And it's such a humble title! ;)

Martin Edwards said...

Pauline, Curt and Patrick, it's good to hear from you. Thanks.
Curt, that's a well chosen phrase. Also, good luck with blogging.
Patrick, I do like your blog - lots of good stuff on it.
Pauline, yep, see you there!

J F Norris said...

I liked this book for all its excesses. I raved about it on my blog. I enjoy the preposterous in crime fiction plots. On the other hand, as much I have enjoyed Brand's formula of multiple solutions, the multiple confessions in London Particular drove me crazy and much of the book has an exceedingly arch tone (moreso than even Death of Jezebel) and I had to put it down ....unfinished! Perhaps I'll return to it later mext month.

J said...

I very much liked GREEN FOR DANGER and FOG OF DOUBT, didn't much care for her last (I believe), BRIDES OF ABERDAR. Speaking of Golden Age Baroque, I hereby nominate SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE for the most preposterous solution in crime fiction.

Yvette said...

I liked this rather more than you did, Martin. In fact, I'm adding this one to my 100 Best mysteries list which I've been working on.

I talked about TOUR DE FOURCE a while back on my blog as well. :)

I also loved GREEN FOR DANGER and am currently looking for more Brand books to read.

Enjoyed reading your post.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John, for me it's the pitch of Brand's writing that is a bit irksome. But her plots are usually very good.

Martin Edwards said...

J, I haven't read Aberdar - might give it a miss!
Yvette - thanks. I like your blog.