Carol Carnac – Crossed Skies

Title: Crossed Skies – An Alpine Mystery
Author: Carol Carnac (E. C. R. Lorac)

In London’s Bloomsbury, Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard looks down at a dismal scene. Here is the victim, burnt to a crisp. Here are the clues – clues which point to a good climber and expert skier, and which lead Rivers to the piercing sunshine and sparkling snow of the Austrian Alps. Yet there is something sinister beneath the heady joys of the slopes, and Rivers is soon confronted by a merry group of suspects, and a long list of reasons not to trust each of them. For the mountains can be a dangerous, changeable place, and it can be lonely out between the pines of the slopes… 

The blurb for this book intrigued me immediately. A murder in London that is somehow connected to a group of people skiing in the Alps? Exactly my cup of tea. After reading the introduction I was somewhat disappointed after discovering that Carol Carnac is a pseudonym of E. C. R. Lorac. I’ve already read some of her books and while not bad they were quite obviously mass-produced mystery-by-the numbers. C follows B follows A. If you want to be really surprised, you have to look somewhere else.

Admittedly, Crossed Skies isn’t quite as by-the-numbers. We get two stories that run parallel: In London, Inspector Rivers is investigating a murder where he’s not even quite sure who the victim is. In Austria a group of friends are on a skiing-holiday. There is, of course, a connection. And it’s not that much a surprise what the connection turns out to be but it’s different from the formula Lorac usually uses and I found it more entertaining than her other works.

Still, there were some issues; the group of friends that go skiing? 16 people in total. And that in a relatively short book (240 pages in the paperback edition) and half the time we don’t even spend with them but in London with Inspector Rivers. There’s no way that one can really get to know all of those people…I’m not even sure if all of them had a speaking role or if some were just mentioned in passing. You can’t say they were there to enlarge the suspect pool and confuse the reader because that would require the reader to be aware of them and for most of them I can’t say that I was. Overall there were perhaps 5 or 6 characters that played an actual role in the story and several of those could easily be removed from the suspect list for various reasons. And that, once again, leaves us with E. C. R. Lorac. Mass-producer of crime fiction whose work doesn’t offer that many surprises.

What can be said for her is that she put effort in the surrounding/the time her novels were set in. Previous books were firmly anchored in the time of the Blitz/blackout and this one is set shortly after WWII during the time of rationing and with some shadows of the war still looming over everything. I do enjoy that aspect of her work but it doesn’t quite cover up the weakness of the mystery.