British Library Publishing; 1st edition (10 April 2020)
Category: Crime, Mystery, Police Procedural, Book Review
In Bloomsbury, London, Inspector Brook of Scotland Yard looks down at a dismal scene. The victim of a ruthless murder lies burnt beyond recognition, his possessions and papers destroyed by fire. But there is one strange, yet promising, lead – a lead which suggests the involvement of a skier. Meanwhile, piercing sunshine beams down on the sparkling snow of the Austrian Alps, where a merry group of holidaymakers are heading towards Lech am Arlberg. Eight men and eight women take to the slopes, but, as the C.I.D. scrambles to crack the perplexing case in Britain, the ski party are soon to become sixteen suspects.
This exciting, and now extremely rare, mystery novel was first published in 1952, one year after the author’s own excursion to the Austrian Alps.
‘Crossed skis means danger ahead…’
Crossed Skis has two separate threads which merge as the story progresses. Initially we meet a large mixed skiing party about to set off for a week in the Austrian Alps on New Years Day 1951. It’s been a huge task to get everything organised with more than one person dropping out, and then having to find replacements, but at last they were off, on the long journey by train, boat and car.
Initially I found it hard to remember the cast of characters in the skiing party (there are eighteen of them) and being so many only a handful became well developed. Those that did develop personalities were likeable, well drawn and realistic, the others were mostly surplus to the actual plot and weren’t defined to any degree, basically mentioned only briefly or in conversations. I found it worked much better just concentrating on the main members of the skiing party without trying to remember who everyone else was.
Back in London there has been a fire at Mrs Stein’s boarding house where Inspector Brooks discovered a badly burned and unidentifiable body. It becomes clear to Chief Inspector Julian Rivers, as he and his team uncover events that at first seem unrelated, this wasn’t an accidental death. Mrs Stein’s son is the first to come under suspicion until clues point Rivers and his colleague, DS Lancing, to a member of the skiing party.
Last winter Brook had watched the Norwegians ski-jumping on Hampstead Heath…imported snow, he remembered. “That’s a funny thing,” he said. He had realised that the impression in the mud below Mrs Stein’s porch was the same size and shape as the ring and point made by a ski-stick. It was, he recollected, a very characteristic mark: once you’d seen it you remembered it. “Ski-ing,” he said slowly. “Who…and why? About the last thing you’d connect with this place.”