Welcome, tourists, to the tiny picturesque island nation of San Juan el Pirata - St. John the Pirate. Very pretty. Very colorful. A place where the local police are concerned primarily with smuggling tourist goods. Not with stopping the traffic, though; just the opposite: it's the police doing the smuggling. And when murder strikes, the police aren't really interested in finding out who committed the murder - all they want is to arrest someone, anyone, and haul him (or her) away to be hanged, so they can get back to smuggling. Evidence? Why bother with evidence when you can just make stuff up? It was the sort of thing which turned Scotland Yard inspector Cockrill's vacation into a nightmare tour. Or, as the title of Christianna Brand's book would have it, a Tour de Force. The book, first published in 1955, is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Inspector Cockrill – Cockie, as he’s known – is one of the tourists being herded around Europe on a conducted tour. Brand – who has a wicked sense of humor – has a great deal of fun pointing out some of the problems – as, for example, the real or would-be romantic entanglements of some of the tourists. As sometimes happens on these tours, there are opportunities for flirtation – some innocent, some not so – and there are a number of such relationships being pursued by members of the touring group. Slowly, but very surely, the tensions begin to build, and soon enough, when the group reaches the island nation of San Juan el Pirata, there is a murder.
And then the complications begin. The police force on the island has very little interest in policing or investigating crimes, especially murders. the first consideration, of course, is the fact that the primary industry of San Juan el Pirata is tourism. Well, perhaps that's only the second most important industry; the chief occupation of most of the residents – including the entire police force – appears to be smuggling. And the police don’t want anything happening in their territory that may interfere with the far more important businesses of smuggling and tourism. They want a solution now, even if it has to be made up out of whole cloth – and they don’t want to be bothered with evidence.
So it is against that background that Inspector Cockrill begins his own investigation. His primary goal is to find the real killer before the police grab one member of the group more or less at random and execute him – or her. And it won't be easy, because Cockie himself is a suspect.
All this is told with Brand's caustic wit. She has a fine time with the indignities of the guided tour as well as the Keystone Kop antics of the local constabulary. But she is careful to provide clues - well-hidden clues, of course - for the alert reader. And the final surprises are both dramatic and stunning. It's available in e-book formats from MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, and there seem to be a fair number of out-of-print editions to be found through your favorite mystery book store or online seller. It's highly recommended.