Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"En route, ladies and gentlemen for - Murder."

"...he thought in despair: 'She's one of Them!' For Inspector Cockrill was setting out upon a Conducted Tour of Italy and ever since, his money being paid and withdrawal now impossible, he had received the assurance of the travel agency that he would find delightful friends among his fellow tourists, he had been contemplating their coming association with ever-increasing gloom. 'She and all the rest,' he thought. 'They're Them.'"
"Tour de Force"

Three months in Kyoto have convinced me that people like to stand in line for restaurants a lot more than people in Fukuoka. And as someone more accustomed to Fukuoka-rituals than the ones in Kyoto, I still have an aversion to standing in lines for food. But still, those long lines do suggest that the food is good. So our plan was to simply be the first in the line, cutting the waiting time. So we picked a soba restaurant that always has a long line waiting in front for it and arrived  a bit before opening time. We got in safely, had a nice dinner, went out. And then we discovered that there were actually always two lines here; a modest one for 'our' soba restaurant, but most people were actually standing in line for the ramen restaurant next door. Next time, Gadget!

What this has to do with the Christianna Brand's Tour de Force? Nothing at all. Really. I've been relatively good lately, but some people might remember that usually the introductions to my posts are not related to the main topic.

So yes, we continue our streak of English fiction on this blog. But a bit differently this time. Luckily. I read Croft's Mystery on Southampton Water in Japanese (even though I could have easily read it in English), and the same holds for The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, though it has to be mentioned that there is no English equivalent for that release. But Christianna Brand's Tour de Force, I actually read in English. How rare! I really think that I'm the only one who reads the English books in the Mystery Club room. Anyway, my first encounter with Brand and Inspector Cockrill was through the excellent movie Green for Danger and I had seen the title Tour de Force mentioned earlier as a good Brand, so I opened the book with quite some expectations. And then I sneezed, closed the book again and washed my fingers. And the book. Clearly, the book had certainly not been cleaned of dust for many, many years.

Having booked a tour to Italy for his holiday, Inspector Cockrill is forced to spend his days with his fellow travelers. Which consists of a widely varied group, including a fashion designer, a writer, a piano player who lost his arm, accompanied by his wife and many others. The group enjoys and suffers in the ways you would expect from such a tour; great sights to see, but also problems with bad hotels and bad meals being served. And then, the tour arrived at the island of San Juan el Pirate, where Vanda Lane, one of the members of the group, is murdered in her hotel room. Most of the members of the tour being away on an excersion luckily narrows down the circle of suspects, but it just happens that all the suspects were on the beach during the time the murder was commited and they were all within eyesight of Cockrill!

As I only saw the movie version of Green for Danger, Tour de Force was the first time I made contact with Brand's prose, but I have to admit that I had troubles going throug the book. There is a certain witticism to Brand's writing I really like and there are quite some quote-worthy passages in the book, but there is just something to her writing that really made it hard to read for me. Maybe because there were few dialogues / direct lines spoken by characters? Not sure, but it made an excellent story a bit hard to really enjoy. It makes me a bit weary of starting with Death of Jezebel, which I know is regarded as Brand's masterpiece. I can easily get my hands on a Japanese copy, but just the thought of reading Brand's prose again, but in Japanese.... *shudder*

The prose was a shame though, because Tour de Force is really fun. The busman's holiday (and island) setting reminded me of Christie's Evil Under the Sun, which is never a bad thing with me. The varied types of members is something you'd expect only to see in... the Orient Express. Like I said, there are some funny passages and observations in the text that described a really plausible tour with all its problems.

But that was not all, as the puzzle plot is quite interesting too. Brand comes up with a whole series of possible solutions and plausible scenarios that explain who could have killed Vanda Lane and the presentation of these 'solutions' is actually quite natural seen in the context of the story developments (as opposed as the sometimes rather forceful presentation of a false solution in a Queen story). At any rate, these solutions do make you doubt what is real and what's not, which makes Tour de Force the more interesting.

And the final solution is really memorable, as the lead-up to it is done very well. It's a bit of a shame I've seen a very similar plot in the final episode of a TV series I like (which I won't specify anymore in fear of spoiling anything for anyone), where it was also done a bit better I think, but still, Tour de Force is worth a recommendation if you wanna read a very compentently constructed murder mystery.

All in all a good mystery which is certainly recommendable to anyone who enjoys a great puzzler. Unless you don't like Brand's prose.

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