Dead Men Don’t Ski by Patricia Moyes

Title: Dead Men Don’t Ski
Author: Patricia Moyes
Published in 1959

Plot Summary from Goodreads: “If you’re as hungry as I am for a really good whodunit, you will welcome the debut of Patricia Moyes,” wrote Anthony Boucher in The NewYork Times Book Review on the publication of this first Inspector Henry Tibbett mystery more than twenty years ago. The setting is the Italian Alps, where Henry Tibbett, on vacation from Scotland Yard, and his wife, Emmy, have settled in for some skiing. But their hopes for a holiday die when Henry uncovers an international smuggling ring involving some of the hotel guests. Then, a fellow guest who is alive when the ski lift leaves the top of the mountain is found dead when the lift touches bottom.

Henry Tibbett, Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard, has for years delighted those who love a classic British detective story. A modest, self-effacing man, Tibbett possesses an almost uncanny “nose” for crime, and those who know him well realize that his gentlemanly demeanor masks a shrewd mind and a fearless spirit. When he teams up with his wife, Emmy, a cheerful but formidable woman, there isn’t a criminal anywhere who can rest secure.

I’ve been intending to try out the Inspector Henry Tibbett series by Patricia Moyes for years. I picked up a different one – The Coconut Crime – at my local UBS and read it earlier this year and never posted about it over here. I enjoyed Henry and his delightful wife, Emmy, but wasn’t in love with the book’s tropical setting. I decided to order the first book in the series – this one – from Abe Books and give it a second try.

I have a much more significant affinity to mysteries set in cold, snowy climates, so this was a hit with me. I really enjoyed everything about it. We’re introduced to Henry & Emmy in England, as they are getting ready to leave for a skiing holiday in Santa Chiara, a small town in the Italian Alps, and Henry’s boss at Scotland Yard asks him to do a little bit of sleuthing around for an international smuggling ring. The side characters are likable and well-drawn, both the international jet setters who spend their days in Santa Chiara skiing and their nights drinking, and the staff of the hotel, all of whom are more than they appear at first glance.

Things really get going when a corpse shows up on the downward side of the chair lift that operates between the luxury hotel where Henry and Emmy are staying and the town of Santa Chiara. The victim has been shot, and no one is upset that he’s dead because he’s a drug-running, smuggling, abusive criminal. Henry duly sleuthes around, Emmy does what Emmy does best, which is pay attention and get people talking, and everyone works on their ski technique.

It seems like no one really writes mysteries like this anymore. It’s not a cozy, and lacks the sometimes overly twee elements that I don’t like in a typical coffee shop/bookstore/cat cozy. It’s not a police procedure or gritty modern drama. The puzzle is at the forefront, but, also character development and interactions are important. I really enjoy the classic mystery format and am always on the lookout for this type of series.

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

Title: A Christmas Party
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published in 1941:

Plot Summary from Goodreads: It is no ordinary Christmas at Lexham Manor.

Six holiday guests find themselves the suspects in a murder inquiry when the old Scrooge who owns the substantial estate is found stabbed in the back.

Whilst the delicate matter of inheritance could be the key to this crime, the real conundrum is how any of the suspects could have entered the locked room where the victim was found, to commit this foul deed.

For Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard, the investigation is also complicated by the fact that every guest at Lexham Manor is hiding something – casting suspicion far and wide…

Previously titled Envious Casca

This is not the first time that I’ve read Envious Casca, as it was originally titled. I think I’ve read it through a full three times – the first and second times I couldn’t quite remember the solution to the mystery. This time, I knew the ending and was able to see the clues as they were embedded in the story.

This is a classic English mystery – closed circle, locked room, country-house, Christmas mystery. I’ve read other Heyer mysteries, and will complete the list at some point, but, right now, I think this is her best.

The book opens with the gathering of the Herriard family for Christmas at the behest of Uncle Joseph, who lives with his brother, Nat Herriard. Nat is the patriarch of the family, and the one with all of the family money.

“Joseph, having lived for so many years abroad, hankered wistfully after a real English Christmas. Nathaniel, regarding him with a contemptuous eye, said that a real English Christmas meant, in his experience, a series of quarrels between inimical persons bound to one another only by the accident of relationship, and thrown together by a worn-out convention which decreed that at Christmas families should forgather.”

Nat has no children, but his nephew, Stephen, has been acknowledged as his heir. Stephen is the child of his other brother, who died many years ago. Stephen’s mother lives in Canada with her 3rd husband and isn’t in the picture at all. Paula, Stephen’s sister, is also a guest for Christmas. Paula has brought along her latest squeeze, a playwright named Royden, and Stephen’s vacuous but pretty fiancee, Valerie, is also there for the holiday. There’s also a random cousin, Mathilda, Nat’s business partner, Mottisfont and Joseph’s wife, Maud, to round out the guest list.

The Herriard family is an obstreperous and argumentative bunch. Nat is not so awful as Simeon Lee from Christie’s holiday classic, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, but he enjoys a wrangle as much as the next guy. Some families get together for a game of Pictionary during the holidays, the Herriard’s get together for their own version of Festivus, which primarily relies on the airing of grievances.

‘Miss Herriard,’ responded Mathilda coolly, ‘treated the assembled company to a dramatic scene – she’s an actress, good in emotional rôles. I wasn’t present, but I’m told that she and Mr Herriard had a really splendid quarrel, and enjoyed themselves hugely.’

‘Seems a funny way to enjoy yourself, miss.’

‘It would seem funny to you or to me, Inspector, but not, believe me, to a Herriard.’

When Uncle Nat ends up dead in his locked bedroom, having been stabbed in the back, everyone is a suspect and everyone, almost, has a motive. This is an exceptionally clever mystery, relying on misdirection, and some legal and medical intricacies for the solution.