Sir Abercrombie Lewker wasn’t desperately happy to be sent to see a doctor about his nerves. Being told that he had to take a break away from London wasn’t something he wanted to hear – in part due to his current season as Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1, and in part because he really didn’t like the doctor. And he wasn’t the only person to dislike Dr Mark Wellbeck-Jones.
Lewker’s wife knew of some friends who were taking a skiing holiday in Austria that they could join – the only thing that worried Lewker was that Wellbeck-Jones’ estranged wife, Madeleine, was part of that problem, as was Dr Wolf, a German who Wellbeck-Jones has caused to be interned during the war. In fact, almost everyone at the ski lodge had some reason to dislike Wellbeck-Jones, so it was a good thing that he wasn’t there, but in a nearby resort. Tensions start to rise when a message arrives that he is going to ski over to join them, but he doesn’t make it, falling into a hidden crevasse on the route. But if it was an accident, why did he carve the letters M U R D into the ice before he died?
This is the fourth Abercrombie Lewker mystery from Glyn Carr aka Showell Styles, and the earliest not to be reprinted by Rue Morgue. I’ve pondered already as to why the books reprinted were books 1, 2, 3, 5 and 11. One theory was the quality of the titles, but after reading this one, I’m just going to assume it was the availability, because this one is rather fun.
What is noteworthy here is how Carr takes a reasonably large closed circle of suspects – a handy avalanche cuts off the cabin for a few days – and still makes all of them an integral part of the plot. Books these days struggle to do that with six or so characters – I’ve read a few with three couples stuck somewhere and even then by chapter three, half the characters have faded into the background. Here we’ve got about twelve characters, all of whom have something important to do in the plot. At no point did I need to remember who was who, they were nicely distinctive without descending into caricature.
There is a bit of mountaineering trivia on display, showing off the author’s expertise, this time on how to get a body in and out of a crevasse in a glacier. It’s not too technical, but detailed enough to be interesting should you want the detail.
As for the mystery… well, I’m not convinced that it’s as well clued as some of the others in the series. The solution, a bit like Murder On The Matterhorn, is obvious if you twig something, and I think that perhaps the author telegraphs that something a little too much, as I caught onto the important fact at the first hint, and once you spot that, the murderer is very guessable. There’s an odd parallel to a game played by the author in book six, The Corpse At Camp Two, but I’ll say no more about that, in case you’re reading this after the books have eventually been reprinted at some point in the (far) future.
All in all, a very enjoyable read – while the murderer is guessable, unravelling who was doing what and why is still fun to discover.