The Youth Hostel Murders (1952) by Glyn Carr

“I never snoop” boomed Mr. Lewker reprovingly. “The word is not Shakespearean.”

Abercrombie “Filthy” Lewker, famed actor-manager, mountaineer and amateur sleuth, is in the village of Bickerdale, Cumberland, with his wife, Georgie, on a walking holiday. They have hardly set foot in the town, however, when news comes to Lewker’s attention that a young woman is missing from the local Youth Hostel. Joining the search, he finds the girl, Gay Johnson, floating in a pool of water. She appears to have fallen from the rock face above – but could tumbling down the cliff really have left her with a single head-wound?

Lewker, with the help of his friend Detective Inspector Grimmett, goes undercover – well, as undercover as a famous actor can – as a guest at the Youth Hostel and his suspicions of murder become stronger and stronger. How does Gay’s death link to a similar death weeks earlier? And what do the secret rituals in the nearby stone circle have to do with things?

Glyn Carr was a pseudonym for Frank Showell Styles. He published four books under his own name, two apparently featuring Lewker, and then fifteen books under the pseudonym (including the fascinating title “Death Of A Weirdy”). Three of them – this one, the debut Death On Milestone Buttress and Death Under Snowdon – were reissued by Rue Morgue Press in 2006, but other than that, he’s an expensive author to collect. I’ve been keeping an eye out for an affordable copy of one of his books for a while now, having and finally stumbled across this one. So have I found another expensive addition to my book collecting habit?

Quite possibly, I’m afraid. I think the quality of this book will depend on how much you can tolerate the sleuth. Lewker, far more actor than mountaineer, is an entertaining fellow but at every single possibility, he’s bunging in a Shakespearean quote or misquote. Goodness only knows how his wife deals with him, but once you get the hang of it, you might enjoy it. I did, to an extent, although I prefer the more scattered references from dear old Anthony Bathurst, and other than that, Lewker is your typical eccentric amateur sleuth. And surely it’s always better to be an eccentric amateur than a dull professional?

All in all, it’s a nicely clued mystery, classically constructed. There’s lots going on that all ties together nicely, although one red herring is probably a bit too blatant. While the villain isn’t a huge surprise, what they are up to is, and it’s all properly foreshadowed. There are clues and red herrings, and Carr takes time to give some of the characters some nice depth. In particular, I really liked the developments on the last page.

Will I return to Carr? Yes, if I can afford to. According to John Norris, Lewker is much more bearable here than in his debut, so I guess I’ll be looking for Death Under Snowdon next. And next time I’m at the Bodleian, there’s every chance Death Of A Weirdy will be on my list…

2 comments

  1. I’ve enjoyed both of the Lewker mysteries I’ve read so far–this and Death Finds a Foothold. In each review I’ve echoed the strong points you mention (“There are clues and red herrings, and Carr takes time to give some of the characters some nice depth.”) and the weakest point (again in both) is that he doesn’t hide his villain very well. As I said about Foothold: “once the reader knows that the professor’s death was murder, it becomes obvious who did it. Might not know exactly how, might not know the details on why–but definitely who.”

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  2. I’ve read every Glynn Carr, several twice or three times and enjoyed every one. They are mostly proper detective stories, with well-clued mysteries and deserve fully being reprinted. In some of the books I was completely surprised at the identity of the murderer, The Ice Axe Murders for example. For your information there are three not two Lewker books published as by Showell Styles, they are thrillers rather than detective stories and Lewker is not always the main character in the book. Also Rue Morgue reprinted Death Finds a Foothold. Yes cheap copies of the books are hard to find. Last year I bought a copy of Carr’s Murder of an Owl for less than £8.00 on eBay from webuybooks. It never I arrived, but two days after I got a refund the book was relisted by the same seller at ten times the price. When I complained that it was obviously the same book they said it was another copy! As I’ve only had two copies of the books in thirty years, I know that it wasn’t. It shows that even if you do find a cheap copy for sale you might not actually receive the book if the seller doesn’t play by the rules.

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