On New Year’s Day, sixteen travelers leave behind the post-war dreariness of London for a skiing trip in Austria. At this same time, the top floors of a boarding house in Lioncel Court are in flames. When the fire is extinguished, the body of a man is found, burnt beyond recognition. In the mud outside, an observant constable sees an odd mark—the impression of a ski-stick. The police soon have reason to suspect the fire, and the death, were not accidents. And as the investigation continues, the police uncover clues leading them to suspect someone in that party enjoying the skiing in Austria.
The narrative is split, with chapters alternating between the skiing party in Austria and the detectives working to solve the murder in London. The storylines run parallel, but flow quite well, without any slowing of the pace. Carnac then skillfully brings them together for the climax. She also weaves in interesting aspects of life in post-war England and Europe. And there are curious contrasts that I found unexpected, such as rationing in England but not in Ireland, and the still derelict bombed out blocks in London versus the lush, green fields of Austria.
The London side of the story is pretty standard police procedural. But Carnac produces some very clever detection by the Rivers and his team as they gradually link clues to bring together seemingly unrelated crimes. After having read quite a few books in the Inspector MacDonald series (under the E. C. R. Lorac pseudonym), I found Detective Chief Inspector Rivers a bit of a departure. He has a much bigger personality, and we learn a lot more about him in one book than we ever learn about MacDonald. I’d be very interested to read more Carnac to see more of him.
The skiing group is a large one, sixteen in all, which meant some initial confusion trying to figure out who’s who. But this is soon ironed out with the prominence of five in the party. The large group does have its advantages though. Due to last moment substitutions, some in the skiing party have little, if any actual connection to the group. This allows Carnac to introduce tension when circumstances lead them to question just how well they know each other. It also gives her the opportunity of laying out several red herrings, and some very good clues.
This is one that, unless the reader is clever enough to pick up on some subtle clues, will keep most guessing. A solid mystery, a very entertaining storyline. I highly recommend this one—and here’s hoping to see more Carnac in the future.
Prior Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining Crime
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book set anywhere except the US or England