Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac
January 15, 2022 8:19 PM - Subscribe

Crossed Skis, published in 1952, tells the twin stories of an enthusiastic group departing by train to ski the Austrian Alps, while in dreary London a mysterious fire leads to the discovery of a body. As both threads of the story progress, it seems that the lighthearted travelers have someone in their group who may be hiding a terrible secret.
posted by PussKillian (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for kicking off this Golden Age Mystery book club discussion, PussKillian!

I've still got half the book to read, so I'm going to just pop in quickly to say I'm really enjoying the period detail. Of particular note is a conversation about real life attempts to conquer Everest, and the expectation that these characters would all know the names of the members of the climbing parties. Crossed Skis is set in January 1951, and Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary wouldn't find success until May 1953. One of my favorite nonfiction books is Jan Morris's Coronation Everest, which has a first person account of the Hillary-Norgay climb but also explains how deeply invested the British public was in being first to reach the summit.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:26 AM on January 16, 2022

I’m also about halfway through (re-)reading it, and I’m enjoying it just as much this time round. I really like the whole set-up, with the two strands seeming separate at first, but I think I also most appreciate the period details - like how you actually go about getting from London to Lech in 1951, or the fact that you were only allowed to bring £5 out of the country.

explains how deeply invested the British public was in being first to reach the summit.

There’s a Mary Stewart book, Wildfire at Midnight set on the Isle of Skye in May 1953, and while the main plot is about murders, the Everest climb is used to ratchet up the tension in the background, with the characters checking on the wireless each day to see if there’s any news.
posted by scorbet at 2:54 PM on January 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think I also most appreciate the period details - like how you actually go about getting from London to Lech in 1951, or the fact that you were only allowed to bring £5 out of the country.

Yeah, the first time one of the characters referred to "the regulation five pounds," I thought it was a bit of a joke - that five pounds was the recommended amount, per guidebooks or common wisdom, but it became clear that this was actually a legal limit. I was aware rationing continued in postwar UK, but didn't know about this level of exchange control. So that was interesting.

I didn't read the synopsis before diving in, so assumed this would be more of a "someone on on ski trip has been murdered" whodunnit, versus the ski party being potential suspects in a crime that took place back in London. I liked the juxtaposition of the seemingly low stakes way the skiers felt each other out and sort of deduced things about their fellow travelers, even before suspicious occurrences began, with the actual police investigations back in London.

I finished this today as we got a little winter snow, which made for a cozy afternoon.
posted by the primroses were over at 3:22 PM on January 16, 2022

This was an enjoyable read, but it took a while for my interest to heat up because I didn't realize right away how MUCH of the policeman there would be - I twigged eventually that this was a series detective. I had expected more of a psychological thriller 'trapped in the snowy mountains' type feel and I kept waiting for that to arrive, especially after the subplot with the misplaced money, which, incidentally, I still don't quite understand.

I also was taken off guard by the ending - I kept expecting the 'O'Hara' who struggled out of the snow into the policemans' arms to suddenly reveal himself as Gray/Neville, having coshed his fellow skier, the original O'Hara, on the head, stashed his body beneath the fallen tree, stolen his passport, and arranged to scarper. What a let-down to have the murderer die an accidental death without any dramatic confrontation!

I did enjoy the setting - I'm a sucker for Tommy and Tuppence, and this had much the same vibe. The two post-war periods are fascinating to me for their social upheaval. And I very much enjoyed spending time with all those cheerful young people having a good time, and imagining my grandparents at the same time of their lives.
posted by bq at 8:13 PM on January 16, 2022

This was a reread for me. After I discovered ECR Lorac through the Shedunnit podcast, I started to read everything I could by her and so discovered her other big pen name. (Apparently this was mostly because she wrote so fast that they didn’t want to swamp the market.)
I really enjoyed this book because of the skiing party dynamics - a big group of people sussing each other’s personalities out, because they’re all thrown together and want to make the best of it. Unfortunately some of the party got short shrift which probably smoothed out the story a bit but meant that there were so many background characters with no fleshing out. I loved getting the sense of escaping a dreary place to somewhere new and exhilarating to the senses.

As a mystery it probably narrows down the suspects too quickly to be truly tricky but the book has so much of what I love - interesting characters, a vivid sense of the past, and good dialogue.
posted by PussKillian at 8:40 AM on January 17, 2022

especially after the subplot with the misplaced money, which, incidentally, I still don't quite understand

I don’t think it was definitively explained, but at least the gist of it seemed to be that “Helston” stole O’Hara’s Austrian currency as he was planning to stay longer in Austria, and couldn’t depend on using the real Helston’s traveler’s cheques thanks to a signature being required. The Sterling in O’Hara’s case was probably forged, thought that wasn’t totally cleared up. I’m not entirely sure why “Helston” left them there, except maybe to make it look more like someone was pranking rather than a simple theft.

The exchange controls would probably have made it much more difficult to use larger amounts of Sterling abroad, as you’d be more noticeable, whereas paying with schillings would make you less traceable, as it would make you look more like someone working abroad (or possibly depending on how good “Helston”’s German accent was, seem like you were a German-speaker from a different area.)
posted by scorbet at 8:59 AM on January 18, 2022

There’s some photos here (p18 &19) of the Flexenpass around Lech from the 1930s (including the church at Langen) if you want an idea of what the roads would have been like, though these were taken in summer.
posted by scorbet at 10:49 AM on January 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I read this in May 2020 (just found this post from the "link to all books" in MetaTalk. The start and the railway station were the best bits for me, and the rather realistic stuff about all the changes to plans and the hassle this caused for the organiser. I think it was probably this review by Martin Edwards that led me to it. There's another review here which has several other links to reviews.

I've got on better with some of Carnac in her Lorac identity - Fire in the Thatch and Murder by Matchlight, though I think she is a writer who's very variable.
posted by paduasoy at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2022

I think this is the only Carnac I've read - I'm hoping that more get published as hopefully the British Library books demonstrate that she's an author people are interested in. I'm currently rereading Checkmate to Murder. I just find her such a solid author in general, although the most recent release had a really enticing premise but I didn't get on with it quite as well as I have with others.
posted by PussKillian at 8:15 AM on January 28, 2022

What was the most recent one? I've just started Shroud of Darkness, which looks the most recent to me - November 2021? But not sure if I'm seeing the same publication dates as you.

Thanks for the thread, I glommed a lot of her last year but hadn't returned since so it's good to have a reminder. There's a couple of people I must recommend her to also.
posted by paduasoy at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2022

I thought These Names Make Clues was the newest of the BL releases, but I may be wrong. I just found Shroud of Darkness as a 99 cent Kindle though, not as a BL release, but I hadn't seen it before and nabbed it. Hopefully it isn't full of typos like some of them are. Since I learned about Lorac via Shedunnit, I frequently see British readers talking about BL releases early and sometimes buy them via ABEbooks, but also they seem to occasionally pop up under small presses or as these random Kindle offerings.

I liked a lot of These Names Make Clues but having every character have a real name and a literary pseudonym for the party made keeping track of stuff difficult. But I liked a lot of the characters in it.
posted by PussKillian at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2022

I thought These Names Make Clues was the newest of the BL releases

It is the latest Lorac from the British Library. Those random kindle publishers are weird - it seems to be a different “publisher” each time I look for new Loracs, and a new publication date. It means I don’t get the helpful hint that I’ve already bought the book, either.
posted by scorbet at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, thanks, scorbet. I've stopped buying the BL print versions so was not in sync. Have finished Shroud of Darkness and enjoyed it. It also had Everest and ski-ing references in passing. I didn't see typos except for odd single-digit numbers occasionally, unless "huroush" near the start is one. Didn't get on with Our Names Make Clues, probably mostly because of the two sets of names, as you say, PussKillian.
posted by paduasoy at 2:59 AM on January 30, 2022

I think I've figured out (for a second time) what's up with the random kindle editions - namely Canadian copyright law. Canada still has Life+50, whereas most of Europe and the USA has Life+70. So Lorac/Carnac's works are out of copyright in Canada and are being made available on Faded Page. This means that (unless you're in Canada or somewhere else with Life+50) those random kindle editions are probably not strictly legal, and if you are in Canada/other Life+50 country, then you can legally get them for free on Faded Page.
posted by scorbet at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh interesting, thanks. I'm seeing them on the American store, but who knows. Going to check out Faded Page.

I see a lot of people who are into the collectibles/chasing Ebay game for editions, and it would be fun if I was rich, but I'm not and I just want to read the books.
posted by PussKillian at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, they appear in the German store for me too, but I think they keep getting taken down as illegitimate, and then being put up again by a "different" publisher. Basically someone's trying to profit off the work done by the Faded Page team. (Or else it's extremely coincidental that they only seem to have the ones available on FP. Which of course, I would never even think of downloading, as after all I'm not in Canada.)
posted by scorbet at 9:06 AM on February 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've just been given a new BL Lorac, Post after Post-Mortem, which is good so far (on page 132 of 300).
posted by paduasoy at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2022

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