RogerBW's Blog

Dead Men Don't Ski, Patricia Moyes 08 September 2019

1959 mystery, first in the series about Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett. Tibbett and his wife go on a skiing holiday to a remote village on the Italian-Austrian border, but his superiors and Interpol ask him also to keep an eye on drug smuggling in the area. But what has that to do with the unpleasant German who turns up dead at the bottom of the chair-lift?

I found this remarkably reminiscent of Ellis Peters in her prime, which she was at this time – indeed, The Will and the Deed, which similarly has a party of strangers in a snowbound location, was published the next year. Like the Peters, everyone here has a secret; unlike that book, some of them have more than one, so when one sin is revealed you can't be certain that they aren't also the murderer. (Hmm, is it time I reread all of Peters' contemporary mysteries? I last did that in 2006.)

Of course there are the standard 1950s complaints about young people…

His trousers, skin-tight, were pale blue, like a Ruritanian officer's in a musical comedy: his sweater was the yellow of egg-yolks, with geranium-red reindeer circumnavigating it just below the armpits: his woollen cap, in shape like the ultimate decoration of a cream-cake, was royal blue.

But there's also a surprisingly nuanced consideration of the war and its aftermath; it's not a big part of the plot, and I get the feeling that many readers at about this time were weary of the war as a reason for things to have happened, but it's put quite effectively.

"Was he a Fascist?" Henry asked, somewhat diffidently.

Spezzi shrugged his shoulders. "Who wasn't?" he replied. "I can assure you, Inspector, that to talk to us Italians now, you would think that Mussolini had not one single supporter—and yet, it is evident that he had many. A certain party was in power—very well. Most of us wanted nothing more than to live our lives in peace… and for that, one did not make demonstrations against Fascism. As I told you, Hauser had no interest in politics… like a great number of us."

All right, Spezzi the local captain of carabinieri suffers rather by being this story's Watson, his role demanding that he make mistakes in order that Tibbett look good by correcting them. There are idiotic young people galore. But there's also a fine location, a hotel isolated at the top of "one of the longest chair-lifts in Europe"; the murder on the chair-lift seems as though it's a puzzle for timetable fans, but there are other factors to consider too; something that's never mentioned becomes terribly important; and while I did identify the murderer from the final field of four, it wasn't really by diegetic means, though I probably could have done that if I'd been working harder at it.

There's a good blend of challenging puzzle with interesting people, if perhaps slightly too many people for my taste; the setting is well-shown; and I like Moyes' writing style, the slightly mannered English that has largely fallen out of favour. This is a book oddly calculated to appeal to me sixty years later. I'll read more by Moyes.

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