by Carol Carnac
Series: Julian Riveres #8
Publication Date: January 1, 1952
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!