Tour de Force is like the swan song of the series: I do not know if it, when was written, C. Brand had decided not to write others novels. The fact is, however, that in this novel happens everything and there is really good reason for which it can be defined as an extraordinary novel. The Inspector Cockrill is on vacation. Together with other people, he is embarking on a discovery tour around the Italy: the ultimate goal is the island of San Juan de Pirate, a little island in front of Sardinia, that is not subject to Italian law, but to law of a local Duke, a sort of absolute ruler: the island derives its name from the fact that in the past it has been a haven for pirates and even during the period when the story takes place, is home to a thriving smuggling trade, the main economic activity together with tourism.
After a series of waypoints, in Italian cities of art, culture and natural beauty (Milan, Siena, Rapallo, etc. ..), the tour of the Odyssey arrives in San Juan el Pirata. It can be said .. finally, since up to that time it was a real odyssey: bad food, bad hotels , ramshackle tour. So, the angry Inspector Cockrill is happy to be staying in a beautiful hotel , the Bellomare Hotel, with private beach.
The company seems varied: there is a fashion designer, Cecil; there is the musician Leo Rodd who has lost a hand, but he doesn’t lose the desire to flirt right and left with all the beauties he looks, he is accompanied by his wife Helen Rodd, who helps him and assist him; there is Edith Trapp, tourist from the past unknown but which must be certainly rich, since the objects she needs, fashion accessories and clothes she wears are ultimate in terms of quality and refinement; there is Fernando Gomez, the leadership of the Odyssey; Finally, there are Vanda Lane, a tourist rather shy and reserved, and “Louli” Louvaine Barker, a famous writer.
Soon, become manifest dangerous attractions : Fernando is courting Edith Trapp .. and so it’s far nothing bad; The dangerous thing is instead the extramarital relationship that develops between Leo and Rodd Louvaine Barker, thing made all the more dangerous by the fact that his wife has it all figured out: she is now used to the escapades of her husband, but she loves him and forgives him because he, poor in cane, always comes back to her, rich; however, this time it is different, because Leo has vowed to Louvaine he will flee with her, and the wife has realized that this is not a story like the others. The beautiful thing is that in addition to being desired by Louli, Leo is also loved by Vanda Lane, the classic ugly duckling, who falls in love but often she’s not loved in return.
The sea is blue, the beach is lovely and the tourists enjoy fully.
Vanda Lane that prides herself being a great diver, delights others with her famous dives, but just before she delights Cockrill with a strange speech, with which she puts to shame the secrets of the other fellow adventurers, who would have a double life, or at least the skeletons to hide in the closets: Edith Trapp and Fernando Gomez, Helen Rodd and Leo.
The fact is that she begins to dive, and she makes it from a trampoline place on a tip of the cliff; nearby there is just Ms. Trapp: to enjoy more integral tan possible, she has lined up a series of umbrellas and towels in front of her to form an impenetrable curtain to the looks, but from which it is impossible to even get out without being noticed. Especially since Cockrill choses a beach location from which he can eventually dominate the look with his companions without they to see him, as he is, compared to them, in the highest position.
On the second dive, the Lane makes a mistake and she enters into the water wrongly, doing a “belly flop”. She apologizes and goes to the terrace of the hotel to go back on their feet in the cabin; just she stoppes for a moment with Louli Barker, that after two or three minutes, gets down.
Then, they plunge into the sun. Louli dozes off in her very small white bikini next to Cockrill, who disenchanted, he throws some glance to the body by his occasional companion; Trapp is naked or nearly behind the curtain; Cecil is inflated lying above a duck to roast in the sun; Fernando performs in strange styles of swimming to impress Edith Trapp, while Leo and Helen are both under a shelter which would serve to repair only one: the fact is that the Leo’s half body is under the sun, while the other half body is protected by sheets of music. And the afternoon drags on until the sun dies on the horizon. And only then returning to the hotel, across the terrace, they notice that not only the sun is dead, but also .. Vanda Lane. They enter into Vanda’s room and they found her, made on the bed, sit on a large red shawl, not her but by Louli, with her hands clasped around the handle of a dagger planted in her chest, and her hair loose around her head, as if she were a sacrificial victim, and that was some ritual. Murdered no doubt, because there are traces of blood and water in the bathroom, as if someone went after the murder, to wash himself. But if someone had smeared, easily he would not go unnoticed, because blood is splattered and you understand well where the murder was committed: behind a table, in front of which presumably the victim was sitting. There are drops of blood and the rectangular shape of something, a book, a notebook, something, which is then found. It ‘s a diary, with annotations, which make it clear how the activity of Vane was the blackmail: at each page there is a record in respect of each of the persons constituting the group of tourists, including the Inspector, and then a low number in a circle, representing the amount that would have wanted to extort.
But why just one of them? Because a person in a bathing suit, even when wet, would not arouse suspicion, as it would have seemed as he was out of the sea, as if he had not properly dried.
The murderer is a blackmailed who has been forced to kill? This is the first of the assumptions. A police chief is the General Manager who must answer for his actions to Exaltida, the Grand Duke of the tiny island state.
Cockrill consulted about the movements of his companions, at first states that the location where he was, he would have noticed if someone had climbed to kill Vanda Lane, but he did not see anyone. However, the Inspector Cockrill soon becomes clear that his interlocutors are all less that fools, and that he must strive to find the murderer, because otherwise he becomes the first in the list to suspicion: in fact, if he could see all without being seen, the other, because any lower than him, could not realize what he had done; and this small state applies the death penalty for murder: if the others were not, remains only he. So Cockrill is forced to exculpate himself, when he was arrested, so he can understand why that he needs to get busy, to review the position of all of them and investigate.
The first indicated culprit is Helen. Basing on the assumptions by Cockrill she could eclipse behind him without he had been able to detect, and she could be able to penetrate at the hotel where she would kill Vanda. But Leo is not already in love with Louli and she reciprocated? It ‘s true, but the wife could have ignored it and instead she could think her husband meant with Vanda.
However, Helen is stabbed at night with a letter opener like the one that killed Vanda, so clumsily as to suggest a play. If Helen seems to be the culprit predestined, the same Leo is summoned to the palace of the Grand Duke. But when he returns to the hotel, husband and wife together are closer. Everyone knows that the other was not. Then? It must have been another one! But who? The only person who can not be suspected, but the only one who cannot be suspected is Louvaine Barker, because he slept beside Cockrill and then she surely can not have departed. Because Leo seems to have eyes only for his wife, Louvaineand spontaneously confesses the murder, explaining the ingenious way in which she would have done so; also reveals that she and Vanda were cousins, and that the true writer was not Louli but Vanda: since Vanda was shy and terrified of the world around her and unable to deal with the company, Louli agree with her, became Vanda i.e. the asserted writer, while Vanda in her little had continued to churn out successful novels.
But why murder? What is the motive? A quarrel between the two women for Leo, resulted in the murder ? Then she would assume the identity by Vanda (so the two women looked like a lot) removing make-up; then it would be enough to summarize her identity, taking off rubber shoes, hat and black costume, put them somewhere, and reappear with tiny white bikini that she wore at first, under the black costume.
OK.Word order.Not a chance! Doubts resume when Louli, which is saved from arrest just from Helen, she realizes that she is still loved from Leo, and then she retracts; Cockrill gives reason her and so we find ourselves at the point of first: everyone may have been to kill! Even Cecil that he was off his booby duck, he could get to the shore and swimming underwater wearing goggles and respirator by Leo, as well as Fernando could have been the killer, or Leo, or Helen, or Edith. Or to do by agreeing on most people and carrying out operations relating to the staging a little at a time. In short, everything and its opposite.But incumbes on all the judgment by Exaltida, who must stop one, to leave others free. Who will never be the murderer? Cockrill will be up to verify it, in a final fireworks display, in which everything will happen until the final twist, almost a serial novel.
Novel multi-faceted, it could have a good reason to call “Nothing is what it seems”: in fact, never as in this novel, one must be careful in how reality is presented because anything can have a double aspect. Anyone who suspects it will be found to have a dual identity that he had kept hidden, not necessarily linked to the murder but not to be ignored. So, if you really want to define in another way this novel, I would say it, the Doubles Novel.
Yes I know, I’m partial for the “Double” in novels, but in this case the reference to the novel by Ellery Queen, dedicated to the double, is very apt: in fact, the murderer follows a peculiar feature present in The Twin Syamese Mystery . In fact, I could say that it was precisely for this feature I easily identified the murderer, wondering how he did it nevertheless.
In another article, dedicated to this novel, an acquaintance of mine from overseas, John Norris, called Christianna Brand “the mistress of the multiple solution murder mystery” alluding to the presence of multiple solutions in his novels (referred to Death of Jezebel and Suddenly His Residence) I frankly, while acknowledging the presence of multiple solutions in his novels, I do not think she is the “Lady of multiple solutions” because it would seem as if it were a fact her peculiar. And for this, she distincter herself in relation to the other novelists of the genre. In fact she was not the only one to have considered several solutions related to different suspects in several of his novels: a novelist who normally has multiple solutions in his novels is, for example, Anthony Berkeley (eg. at The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) , in which there are six different solutions, or at The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926, in which four solutions are contemplated; and at least four different solutions, each time presented and then exceeded, are shown in Not to Be Taken, 1937; then there’s Ellery Queen (at least, with its different solutions, The Greek Coffin Mystery, 1932, and The Egyptian Cross Mystery, 1932); and again Leo Bruce (his famous Case for Three Detectives (1936) in which they are provided four options produced by four different characters. Instead, if I had to frame a characteristic, peculiar, in his novels, it would be the mistaken identity, playing on the duplicity of the individual characters, so that in his novels there are continuous sets of mirrors : basically anything that she shows may not be true but in reality only be the result of a hoax resulting in misdirection. In this case of duplicity (i.e. an alleged picture and a real picture of each character) there are galore (Edith Trapp, Cecil, Leo Rodd, Fernando, Louvaine Barker, Vanda Lane) as well as there is an exchange of identity between Louli and Vanda, one of which it will be known hereafter between Cecil and some Jane Woods, and yet another that will introduce you to the final solution, which will revolutionize the cards on the table, yet.
This novel contemplates an Impossible Crime situation: it is not impossible how the murderer was able to leave the room, but how he / she could have committed the murder, since no one apparently has departed to commit, being a material impossibility and temporal that one of those present may have been the murderer. Moreover, the novel comes very close to another famous novel with Impossible Crime that takes place in a similar location, Evil Under the Sun, 1941, by Agatha Christie.
The novel is also indicative for a certain sarcastic criticism of so-called Operator’s Tour.
John Norris in his article about this novel ( http://prettysinister.blogspot.it/2011/10/tour-de-force-christianna-brand.html ) also spoke about the biting criticism Christianna Brand would make, describing the bad travel conditions ((insects, hygiene, food, hotels of fluctuating requirements do not correspond to what was paid and what was promised in the initial conditions) of the tour in Italy (note the reference to the waters of Rapallo, turbid due to the presence of sewage directly into the sea): the first few pages are devoted to descriptions of fact, this kind of criticism holiday village.
In my opinion, however, this criticism of Christianna Brand has a double face. It is not only what John saw and anyone can see, but also other: may be contained a sort of paradox: in parts of Italy where tourists are accommodated in hotels, not all of high class, they eat all things not to their taste, and are exposed to conditions of unbearable heat, nothing bad happens ; where instead finally they found a piece of paradise to rest, they are living a nightmare.
One last thing I have to emphasize: the location of the tragedy.
Christianna Brand was not only a great writer of detective novels but has also she distinguished herself in children’s literature (Nanny McPhee). So why don’t we think she wanted to remember, honoring, James Matthew Barrie, author of Peter and Wendy, and his Peter Pan, inventing an imaginary island in the vicinity of Sardinia, a his Neverland: San Juan el Pirata (coincidentally also into Neverland there are Pirates!)?
Suggestive hypothesis, is not it?
Pietro De Palma