- By Carol Carnac (a.k.a. E.C.R. Lorac)
- First published: UK: Collins, 1952. Reprinted: British Library, 2020.
Sixteen light-hearted young people (nice chaps and pretty girls) go skiing in Austria to escape the dreary London winter. One of the party, though, is a cat burglar and murderer who bashed a porter, and immolated another young man to steal his identity.
An attractive picture of European travel shortly after WWII alternates with dogged policework by Inspector Rivers. The large cast is well handled; the important members are brought forward as cheerful companions or as suspects. And a jolly time is had by all, despite petty theft.
But Crossed Skis isn’t the detective story we expect. There isn’t a single murder among the skiiers – nobody falls off a precipice, nobody plummets to their doom in a chair-lift, nobody is skewered with a pole or wiped out in an engineered avalanche. Rivers and his sidekick Lancing don’t interact much with the party; they never even meet the murderer alive. They know their man (some of the evidence isn’t shared with the reader), and they go after him. It’s a model of police efficiency – but I don’t feel Lorac took full advantage of her setting. “You try to demonstrate a Christie, muff it and cross your skis and then you’re sunk.”
It’s a far cry from the slush of London’s streets to the crisp, dry, shining snow of the Austrian mountains. Yet there was a direct trail leading from the decayed Bloomsbury boarding-house where a man’s body was found, burnt beyond recognition, to a gay party of sixteen young ski-ing enthusiasts enjoying a holiday at Lech am Arlberg. The trail took Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard in search of a murderer of whom he knew only that he was well educated, of great personal charm, probably Irish, a good climber and an expert ski-er. An exciting chase ends in dramatic fashion with a ski-run in a blinding snow-storm. Carol Carnac has never given us a better story than this one.