Monthly Archives: November 2020

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Crossed SkisCrossed Skis by Carol Carnac
Series: Julian Riveres #8
Publication Date: January 1, 1952
Pages: 240
Genre: mystery

British Library Crime Classics Book 78
An atmospheric holiday novel from one of the most consistently popular authors in the series, Carol Carnac (also known as E.C.R. Lorac).

‘Crossed skis means danger ahead…’

In London’s Bloomsbury, Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard looks down at a dismal scene. Here is the victim, burnt to a crisp. Here are the clues – clues which point to a good climber and expert skier, and which lead Rivers to the piercing sunshine and sparkling snow of the Austrian Alps.

Here there is something sinister beneath the heady joys of the slopes, and Rivers is soon confronted by a merry group of suspects, and a long list of reasons not to trust each of them. For the mountains can be a dangerous, changeable place, and it can be lonely out between the pines of the slopes...

As with each of the novels published under E C R Lorac in the Crime Classics series, the author’s sense of place is beautifully realised in all its breathtaking freshness, and she does not miss opportunities; there may be at least one high-stakes ski-chase before this chilling mystery can be put to rest.

This was a recent purchase for me – I have been collecting mysteries from the British Library Crime Classics as they capture my fancy. Because I am shallow, a not-inconsequential element of their appeal is the beautiful covers and this was no exception. Both the title and the cover really appealed to me.

I grew up skiing during my childhood and youth, so a mystery with a winter sports element, especially one set in the Alps, really captured my interest. I was obsessed with the Alps and the alpine countries as a young woman – if I had been able to choose anywhere in the world to live, Switzerland and Austria definitely would have been at the top of my list.

So, I was primed to enjoy this book. And I really did enjoy it.

Martin Edwards provided the introduction to my edition. Carol Carnac is another pen name of ECR Lorac, whose Fire in the Thatch I read a few years ago. That was a three star read for me – I liked Crossed Skis quite a bit better, landing on four stars as my rating. I liked it enough that I will be buying the other Lorac reissues.

Crossed Skis takes place in two different locales – a ski village in Austria and London. The premise revolves around a party of 16 young Londoners who have all arranged to go on skiing holiday together – 8 men and 8 women. They are all connected to one another in various ways – friends of friends, etc – but they don’t all know each other. Simultaneously with the sixteen of them boarding the train and leaving London, a fire at a boarding house occurs and the body of a man is found inside. Leading up to the front door of the boarding house, Inspector Rivers notices an impression of a ski pole basket (or ski stick, as they apparently call them in England) in the mud. From that tiny clue, the investigation springs.

The two primary investigators, Chief Inspector Rivers and his subordinate Lancing are well drawn and engaging. As described within the pages of the book:

I asked Hammond what those two officers were like, the ones who went to the club. She said they were both ‘perfect gentlemen’ – she would. One was a big fair fellow with a quiet voice, and the other was much younger, a dark boy with lively eyes, very coming on.

I liked the descriptions of the holiday party as well. According to the introduction, the author was a huge fan of skiing and that came through in her descriptions of the wintry fun. When the Londoners arrive on the station platform, after making their by now bedraggled way across Europe, she describes it thus:

It was lovely: even on the railway track and on the long low platform they were conscious of the snow peaks rising gloriously into the soft blue of the afternoon sky, of the crisp powdery dryness of snow which had a totally different quality from the squalid soiled snow of London streets. In the intense light, reflected back from white ground and roofs and slopes, everybody look different: dark was darker, fair was fairer, colour was brighter. Clearly defined, sharp cut, brilliantly lit, everything had a quality of vividness and vitality which was exciting, so that fatigue was forgotten and laughter bubbled up in a world that was as lovely as a fairytale.

A few pictures of the setting:

And at night!

As the mystery unfolds, we get to know several of the holiday makers, although some of them remain inscrutable. Among the girls, the organizer Bridget and the sensible Kate are highlights, and the medical man, Frank Harris, are highlights. There are shenanigans around the theft of some money within the party, so some of the members of the London party begin engaging in some amateur investigation of one another. There is dancing and a bit of flirtation and lots of ski-related fun.

The two mysteries, of course, converge and then culminate in a hair-raising mountain run

Lancing knew that he would never forget that ski-run. The conditions were as foul as they could be so far as the atmosphere was concerned: snow and wind together were like raging furies”

after a murderer.

During the Christmas season, I enjoy reading golden age Christmas mysteries. This one isn’t really a Christmas themed mystery, but it is definitely Christmas-adjacent with its focus on winter sports. It was a perfect mystery to start off the holiday reading season for me!

Reading plans for 2021

It’s that time of year again – I start thinking ahead to next year’s reading plans and goals. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped in this year of reading, although I read a lot. I started with a goal of 150 books, and have increased it to 200 books. I am sitting at 187 right now, having just finished rereading Gaudy Night.

I’m really excited about my plans for 2021. My favorite Goodreads Group is trying something new with some selected quarterly “authors-in-residence.” The schedule is:

First Quarter: Alexandre Dumas & Stella Gibbons
Second Quarter: John Steinbeck & Ursula LeGuin
Third Quarter: Virginia Woolf & Philip Roth
Fourth Quarter: Mrs. Oliphant & Isaac Asimov

In addition to the authors-in-residence, I will be reading a number of books by John Steinbeck, since I have adopted him as my next author study. I am still not quite finished with Willa Cather, but I’m so close that it’s time to pick a new one. Fortunately, he managed to make it into the second quarter author-in-residence slot, so I can do double duty.

I will also be continuing with my Agatha Christie monthly reads:

January: 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
February: 1925 The Secret of Chimneys
March: 1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
April: 1927 The Big Four
May: 1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train
June: 1929 The Seven Dials Mystery
July: 1930 The Murder at the Vicarage
August: 1931 The Sittaford Mystery
September: 1932 Peril at End House
October: 1933 Lord Edgware Dies
November: 1934 Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
December: Murder on the Orient Express

On the Agatha Christie Centenary Celebration group on Goodreads.

I am not sure if I will be doing any blog challenges or not. For years, I did the Back to the Classics challenge on my blog, and I’ve sort of gotten out of the habit. I’m not even sure if the challenge will continue in 2021, but I’ll try to track down the information when it gets a little bit closer.

I will update my plans as I develop them further!

2020 Reading Journal and other thoughts

If you aren’t interested in my personal thoughts on the U.S. Presidential election and the pandemic, skip to where it says TL/DR for the book commentary.

Like many people in the U.S., I’ve been struggling a lot with the two (related) calamities of 2020: the pandemic and the Trump administration. I am not a fan of President Trump (to put it mildly) and watching him weaken, and in some cases dismantle, government institutions that I naively believed to be bulletproof has been extremely disillusioning. The last few months have been a roller-coaster ride. I had hoped for a resounding and thorough pummeling of the authoritarian agenda being pushed by a Republican party that is in thrall to the maintenance of power over all other agendas, including that of saving American lives.

There was no resounding and thorough pummeling, although there was a solid Biden win that has, since, been continually undermined by Trump-style Republicans in the weeks since the voting concluded. My obsession with the election results and my dismay over the behavior of professional men and women who have decided to prey on the partisan gullibility of a group of Americans in an effort to overturn a legitimate election is just overwhelming. And the utter failure to meaningfully address the pandemic on a national scale is frankly unforgiveable.

This isn’t a political blog and I don’t want it to become a political blog. I will delete comments posted in an effort to defend Donald Trump because I’m not interested in a political debate here – there are a lot of places I am happy to engage in political debates. This isn’t one of them. I’m only including these first two paragraphs by way of a lead-in to the rest of this post and to explain my state of mind. Because my state of mind is…not good.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with my negative state of mind. A plan to completely ignore the world is both unrealistic and, while it would be possible for me to do this, is only a possible plan because I am an incredibly privileged person. So, I will not be taking this route. Having said this, I cannot continue to mainline dysfunction. I’ve put into place the following guardrails for myself: I have set up monthly donations to various organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Stacey Abram’s Fair Fight organization in Georgia which is working to turn out voters for the Senate run-off elections in January, and the Yellow Hammer Fund, which is an abortion access fund in Alabama; I have renewed my subscription to The Washington Post, and I read The Guardian as well, to get an overseas perspective. I am going to be turning off television news, and I am stepping away from social media for a few months. I did this last year and it dramatically helped my mental health.

TL/DR: the state of American politics and the unrestrained community spread of Covid is getting me down.

Now, on to books. My plan is to engage in some bookish hibernation this winter. Every year in September and October, I focus my reading on books that are atmospheric for the spooky season – mystery, suspense, horror, and supernatural. That time of year is over, however, and I’m ready for some bookish comfort reading. So, I’m going to indulge myself.

Right now, I’ve decided to revisit the Harriet Vane cycle of the Peter Wimsey books. Gaudy Night, third in the sequence, is one of my favorite books of all time! I started Strong Poison last night, and it’s already provided me with a figurative shot in the arm. I’m not sure I’ve ever read Busman’s Honeymoon – if I’ve read it at all, certainly I haven’t it read more than once.

My comfort reading is older fiction. So my plan includes reading some titles that have been published by Dean Street Press and that have been sitting on my kindle for a while.

In addition, I plan to dive into a few new projects very soon, including a Stella Gibbons project. This is fortuitous because, as it happens, DSP is reissuing five previously out-of-print books in January. One of the wonderful things about DSP is the price of their kindle editions. The typical price point is $3.99 a book, which is just incredibly affordable. I literally want to buy them all.

Look at those beautiful covers!

On top of those Furrowed Middlebrow titles, I will be dipping back into my collection of vintage mysteries, which are also comfort reads for me. There are a number of British Library Crime Classics that I am excited to read. I am also want to get back into my collection of Patricia Wentworth mysteries – I’ve read the first 18 Miss Silver mysteries, and I’m ready to move onto The Ivory Dagger. I have several of Wentworth’s standalones available on my kindle as well. And, of course, Agatha Christie’s mysteries are a perennial source of comfort for me – it’s all rereads at this point, but when all else fails, the Queen of Crime usually succeeds.

Posting to this blog can be very helpful to my emotional well-being, and when I stop posting for long periods it is usually a sign that things are not going particularly well with the various aspects of my life. We’re all struggling right now. I hope that everyone who reads this is finding a way to cope.