Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R. Benson

Truly baffling…

😐 😐

Eustace Peters had retired from the Consular Service and taken a house in Long Wilton, the parish of which our narrator, Robert Driver, is rector. The two men had become friends, so Driver is shocked and saddened when Peters is found dead in his bed – murdered! The evening before Driver had spent the evening with Peters and some other guests: Callaghan, Thalberg and Vane-Cartwright, each of whom had been known to Peters from different contexts. Footprints in the snow suggest, though, that the murderer had come from outside the house, so suspicion falls first on the gardener who had been overheard threatening that he’d like to kill his employer. It is soon shown he could not have been the guilty man, however, so the other three men are elevated to the position of suspects. For some unexplained reason, the police seem to leave it mostly up to the rector to investigate.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of the books listed in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, but occasionally I come across one that baffles me utterly – not because of the mystery, but because the book is so bad I can’t understand why it is included. This is one of those. The writing is dull, plodding and repetitive, and the plot, such as it is, is stretched out far too thinly over a whole year, which coincidentally is how much I felt I aged while reading it.

There’s no real mystery. The rector happens on clues, stories and documents by chance and coincidence, which lead him to know who the murderer was and why. But does the book stop then? No, it meanders on and on, trying and failing to build a sense of tension. The story goes out to the mysterious colonial Far East and off to Italy, but the author chooses not to take the reader with it. Instead we stay in England, guests of the rector, the most insistent bore since the Ancient Mariner. We hear about all these possibly exciting events in far-flung places second-hand, through stories people tell the rector or letters they send him.

Challenge details:
Book:
4
Subject Heading:
A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 19
06

At the end, Benson treats us to excuses for all the plot holes and a kind of mass filling in of all the gaps in such a clumsy, amateurish way that I might have found it unintentionally hilarious had my brain not ceased to function several hours earlier. I could only assume he’d read back over his manuscript at the end, made a note of all the things that didn’t quite makes sense and, instead of going back and correcting them, simply tried to explain them away…

In particular, tardy attention had been paid to the report of the young constable who, as I mentioned [250 pages ago!], followed Sergeant Speke into Peters’ room, and who had incurred some blame because his apparent slowness had allowed some trespassers to come and make footprints on the lawn (I fancy his notes had been overlooked when some officer in charge of the case had been superseded by another).

Apparently this was the only mystery novel Benson wrote, and I can only say that I am heartily glad of that. For me, this was already one too many.

I downloaded this one from manybooks.com, but take my advice – don’t.

36 thoughts on “Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R. Benson

  1. ‘….s stretched out far too thinly over a whole year, which coincidentally is how much I felt I aged while reading it.’: Oh, FictionFan that’s very clever, and really gives a clear picture of how you felt about the book! I am really sorry to hear that, too, as the plot overview sounds interesting. And a good whodunit can be such a pleasure to read. It just goes to show how important engaging writing is, and a solid pacing of events. Thanks for cherry-picking; this is one that I don’t think will make it to my wish list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, some books just seem to bring out my sarcastic side… 😉 This was a very early mystery novel so maybe it didn’t seem as silly to have all those loose ends so clumsily tied up at the end, but I’m pretty sure no book would get to the publishing stage in that condition nowadays! Sometimes there’s a good reason a book has been “forgotten”…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, sadly I think that emoji was a pretty accurate representation of my face while reading this one! It does me good to get rid of some pent-up aggression in a review once in a while – stops me getting stomach ulcers… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This does sound like a mess, I’ve never heard of an author making excuses for dull writing or poor plotting in a PS before, was this maybe a spoof which badly misfired? I’m surprised you gave this as many as 2 stars, you must be in a good mood today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish it had been a spoof! It was a very early one – 1906 – so I can only assume that maybe they didn’t edit books much back then. I doubt it’d have got published today without at least some polishing! Haha, I usually reserve the one-stars for books I abandon or really, really hate – this one didn’t even have that going for it…

      Like

    • Haha, I know – and it was so blatant! I can only assume that at that early date – 1906 – they didn’t edit mystery novels very stringently. I must admit I’m often baffled by the books Edwards has chosen. While a lot are great, there have been several that just don’t seem to deserve a place at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to echo Jilanne, sounds like this of all books really, really needed an editor. Or someone to just say no. I’m interested in why Martin Edwards listed it, was it for a specific reason that he felt it deserved a place?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can only think that maybe back then – 1906 – mystery novels weren’t very stringently edited. I doubt this one would have found a publisher today without major structural changes. Ha, sometimes I feel Martin Edwards and I are reading different books – he says “Benson’s thoughtful, well-crafted prose, his insights into human behaviour, and the way in which the story touches on issues such as free will and the ramifications of Britain’s imperial past combine to make his brief venture into the crime genre notable.” Go figure! He does admit that “it sank into oblivion” and personally I feel that’s the best place for it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How did this book get two stars from you?
    Is one star DNF and two, finished but wouldn’t in hindsight?
    Perhaps the book made the list as it was the only book by this author. Or maybe it was a filler since Classic Crime in 83 Books doesn’t sound as good as 100!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. although I feel badly that you read such a terrible book, I must say I heartily enjoy reading your negative reviews because they are hilarious! One less book I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on haha

    Liked by 1 person

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