Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

 New Year, new lockdown and all the crap that goes with it. I'm trying not to think about it to much today - there's a combination of anger, anxiety, and relief that need to settle, but I'm holding on to the fact that if it gets really grim being stuck on my own in town, that I can make a bolt for the country and my mum who is both my social bubble, and still in need of some care (in the form of dog walking mostly, which is the big thing she can't properly manage yet) after her hip replacement. 

Meanwhile my second book of the year turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable and to be taking place more or less in real time as I read it. I picked up 'Crossed Skis' assuming that winter sports would mean a winter setting, but that it starts on New year's day and covers the following week was a pleasant surprise. 

Written in 1952 the plot is inspired by a skiing holiday the author had had the year before, it's also interesting to compare to Nancy Spain's Death Goes on Skis from 1949. Something that relatively recent reading has taught me is that although I'm familiar with all sorts of fiction from the 1920's up until the end of the second world war, the post war period is a bit of a blank to me. This is the world my parents grew up in, and which as a child I supposed probably wasn't very different to the world I was growing up in. The sense of the 1950's as both a time of tremendous opportunity and of reckoning with the recent pastis something that I was vaguely aware of but never really questioned.

Which might be why I find it so fascinating when I meet it now. In 'Crossed Skis' most of the characters saw war time service or were otherwise affected by it. A group of 16 (8 men, 8 women) ranging between their 20's and 30's in age are setting off for a 2 weeks of winter sports in Austria. As is inevitable in a group this size - arranged because it should have been cheaper, so that there would be a mix of abilities, and with dancing as well as skiing in mind there have been a lot pf drop outs and substitutions. The result is a mix of people who know friends of friends, but don't necessarily know each other, but all with interests in common.

Reading the book now the constant suggestions early on that people might not be who they say they are seem a little self conscious given the way the plot will go, but as I try and remember a pre digital world, are maybe not so odd. Especially given the cold war, the Austrian backdrop, and the general excitement of travel. 

Back in London a body has been discovered after a fire, something that might have passed as an accident but for a single clue that points towards a skier, and makes the scene look a bit off. The pleasure of this book is in the contrast between a grim London January against the gloriousness of the Austrian alps, and the growing suspicion amongst the Austrian party that something isn't quite right. 

They don't as a whole know each other well enough to know who might be the wrong un, and have no suspicion of a murder in the background, but something is amiss and causing a thread of anxiety to run through the party. 

It's a good, atmospheric, mystery that hints at other sorts of lockdowns (mention of the Russian sector and the tightening Iron curtain across Eastern Europe as a contrast to the holiday feeling of freedom) but mostly feels like total escapism. Using a party of relative strangers is an excellent device, and the final chapter of the book is properly exciting as a chase across the mountains unfolds in the teeth of a blizzard. It's a brilliant book for odd bits of period detail as well. Definitely recommended.


  1. I read this one last summer (not the most appropriate time of year for such a seasonal story, perhaps) but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read a review somewhere at the time that described it as 'oodles of fun' - which sums it up nicely, I think.

    I'm a big fan of Lorac but Crossed Skis was my first taste of her writing as Carnac. Let's hope more of her titles are released in the BL crime classics series.

  2. Yes! That's just the right description. I think in preferred it to anything I've read that she wrote as Lorac - although I've enjoyed those too. In this case it was the large party of relative strangers and friends of friends that made it work so well, and the contrast between grubby London and sparkling Austria. It felt really cinematic too - would be perfect for a proper all star Agatha Christie type adaptation. Maybe Netflix's success with Bridgerton will encourage more adventurous adapting.