Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

An Alpine holiday…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Book cover and link to Amazon product pageA group of young people are off on a trip to the Austrian Alps for a skiing holiday. With sixteen places in the group, it’s been a mammoth job to get everyone organised and some last minute cancellations mean that a few places have been filled by friends of friends, not directly known by other people in the group. So when some money goes missing from one of the hotel rooms, suddenly suspicion begins to threaten what had been up till then a most enjoyable jaunt. Meantime, back in London, a body has been found burned beyond recognition in a house fire. The police soon have reason to suspect this was no accident however, and the print of a ski-stick in the ground outside the house has Inspector Rivers intrigued…

Carol Carnac is a pseudonym used by Edith Caroline Rivett, who also wrote the Inspector MacDonald series of police procedurals under another pseudonym, ECR Lorac. Lorac has become one of my favourites of the authors the BL has been republishing so I was intrigued to see if I liked her as much in this incarnation, with Inspector Rivers as the lead.

The skiing party is a lot of fun, with the main characters being on the whole an extremely likeable bunch of privileged but not horribly snobbish English people, delighted to escape from the post-war rationing and dismal January days at home for pristine snow and sunshine, skiing by day and dancing the nights away. As Lorac, I’ve commented many times on how great she is at creating the settings she chooses, and that’s apparent in this one too. The freezing weather in both the beautiful Alps and in dank and dreary London is brilliantly described and contrasted, and adds much to the enjoyment.

The one real weakness of the book is the size of the skiing party. Sixteen characters are far too many in a short book – most of them never become more than names, and many have no part in the story at all. Very few of them have space to develop distinct personalities and I was still having to think hard to remember who was who even as the book neared the end. The introduction tells us Carnac based it on a real skiing party of which she’d been a member, but it would have worked much better in the book if she’d cut the cast list down to a more manageable size.

However, I still enjoyed the picture she gave of these young people participating in what was still a rather unusual sport at that time. While it was still mostly the preserve of the elite, Carnac shows how foreign travel was gradually becoming more accessible to ordinary working people in the years after the war. She also reminded me of the days, which I only just remember, when people were restricted in the amount of currency they were allowed to take out of the country, and how problematic this could make foreign travel.

The London end is equally well done, and Rivers and his sidekick Lancing make an excellent team. The plot is a little convoluted, but works, and shows the gradual change in detection methods towards forensic evidence, with much nifty stuff around fingerprints. Both men are coincidentally skiers themselves, so when the trail leads to the Alps they can’t wait to get over there. And it all leads up as you’d expect to a thrillerish ending on a mountain slope in the middle of a snow-storm.

Thoroughly enjoyable despite the overabundance of characters – I’ll be looking out for more of her books in her Carnac persona now too.

20 Books of Summer logoBook 1

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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TBR Thursday 236…

Episode 236

Considering I’ve only managed to finish two books in the whole of April so far, it’s astonishing that my TBR has only increased by 1 – to 215! Imagine how much it would have dropped if only those pesky book-gods hadn’t stolen my reading superpower…

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon – ‘should’ being the operative word…

Historical Fiction

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian

I keep hearing great things about this series and a little trip to Mauritius will fit in well to my Around the World challenge. I’ve acquired the book and the audiobook, so am planning a full immersion – in the book, not the ocean!

The Blurb says: Captain Jack Aubrey is ashore on half-pay without a command — until his friend, and occasional intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin, arrives with secret orders for Aubrey to take a frigate to the Cape of Good Hope, under a Commodore’s pennant. But the difficulties of carrying out his orders are compounded by two of his own captains — Lord Clonfert, a pleasure-seeking dilettante, and Captain Corbett, whose severity can push his crews to the verge of mutiny.

Based on the actual campaign of 1810 in the Indian Ocean, O’Brian’s attention to detail of eighteenth-century life ashore and at sea is meticulous. This tale is as beautifully written and as gripping as any in the series; it also stands on its own as a superlative work of fiction. [FF says: Superlative? Gosh! 😲 ] 

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Fiction

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. I’m still gobsmacked that I seem to have become a Conrad fan! I must say this one sounds as if it’s been written specially for me – bit of politics, bit of empire, exotic location. I would have used it for the Around the World challenge except that apparently it’s set in an imaginary country and, since I just used Ruritania, I feel I ought to fill my remaining slots with real countries! But I’m still tempted… if it’s good…

The Blurb says: One of the greatest political novels in any language, Nostromo re-enacts the establishment of modern capitalism in a remote South American province locked between the Andes and the Pacific. In the harbor [sic] town of Sulaco, a vivid cast of characters is caught up in a civil war to decide whether its fabulously wealthy silver mine, funded by American money but owned by a third-generation English immigrant, can be preserved from the hands of venal politicians. Greed and corruption seep into the lives of everyone, and Nostromo, the principled foreman of the mine, is tested to the limit.

Conrad’s evocation of Latin America–its grand landscapes, the ferocity of its politics, and the tenacity of individuals swept up in imperial ambitions–has never been bettered. This edition features a new introduction with fresh historical and interpretative perspectives, as well as detailed explanatory notes which pay special attention to the literary, political, historical, and geographical allusions and implications of the novel. A map, a chronology of the narrative, a glossary of foreign terms [FF says: like harbor… 🙄 ], and an appendix reprinting the serial ending all complement what is sure to be the definitive edition of this classic work

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Factual

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

I never confess to my audiobook TBR but there are books that have been lingering there for as long as any on my main TBR. I acquired this one in 2012! I’ve started listening to it already and it’s going well so far, but it’s too early to be sure… 

The Blurb says: We think of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603) as a golden age. But what was it actually like to live in Elizabethan England? If you could travel to the past and walk the streets of London in the 1590s, where would you stay? What would you eat? What would you wear? Would you really have a sense of it being a glorious age? And if so, how would that glory sit alongside the vagrants, diseases, violence, sexism and famine of the time? [FF says: So what’s changed? 😱 ]

In this book Ian Mortimer reveals a country in which life expectancy is in the early thirties, people still starve to death and Catholics are persecuted for their faith. Yet it produces some of the finest writing in the English language, some of the most magnificent architecture, and sees Elizabeth’s subjects settle in America and circumnavigate the globe. Welcome to a country that is, in all its contradictions, the very crucible of the modern world.

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Vintage Crime

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Courtesy of the British Library. Carol Carnac is another pseudonym of the already pseudonymous ECR Lorac, who is one of my favourites of the authors the BL has done so much excellent work in resurrecting from obscurity…

The Blurb says: 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. [FF says: Eh? Where’s the rest of the blurb? 🤔 ]

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?