Published by British Library
Publication date – 10 April 2020
Source – review copy
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…
New Year’s Day and a body has been found in a house fire, burned beyond recognition. It appears like a tragic accident until a strange clue is found near the scene; a ski stick imprint in the mud. At the same time a group of 16 travellers make their way from London to Austria, to indulge in two weeks of ski-ing. Soon the two become merged and Inspector Rivers of Scotland Yard has to hit the slopes, before the murderer is lost in the mountains forever.
Crossed Skis was written after the author’s own ski-ing trip in 1951. Whilst this is in essence a murder mystery, and a very good one at that, it is also an insight into travelling in the past, of holiday-making after the war when jumping on an economy flight was unheard of.
At first it is a little difficult to keep track of all of the characters. The party of 16, travelling to Austria, are a tumble of skis, introductions and re-arrangements. However it soon becomes clear that the story only focuses on a handful of the characters and so the others can slip away from the reader’s consciousness.
In London, Rivers has to track down the clues to see where the ski-stick will take him. Meanwhile, over in the ski-ing party, one of the travellers, Kate, has discovered that Robert, another of the party, has had his money stolen. As she looks into it, she begins to suspect at least one of the party is not as they first appear.
It was good to see that whilst somethings have changed (it no longer takes 2 days to get to Austria), some things still resonate over the decades (the grumbling complaint that the country comes to a stand-still with a few inches of snow, whilst other countries take avalanches and snowfall measured in feet rather than inches in their stride).
There are plenty of clues dotted throughout the story, so that the reader can detect with Rivers as to who the culprit is. The author is very clever in tying the two story strands together in a way that makes sense, and doesn’t seem a disjointed story arc.
Crossed Skis is said to be a rare novel. I’m so pleased that the British Library saw fit to re-publish it. I can only hope they discover more treasures for the modern reader to discover.
The more I read of the British Library Crime Classics series, the more I want to read. Perfect for curling up with, they take us back in time. Recommended.