Apparently written to pass the time while the author was recovering from a skiing accident, this ended up being the first of nineteen novels featuring Inspector Henry Tibbett. Having really enjoyed the intricately plotted Who Is Simon Warwick?, one of the later books in the series, I decided to go back to the beginning, which opens with our protagonist heading off on holiday in the company of his clever wife Emmy. The Italian setting was another draw for me, though I steeled myself for some seemingly inevitable caricatures …
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“I can’t even remember a case with so many motives. Hauser must have been just about the most hated man in Europe.”
Looking to mix business with pleasure, the Tibbetts head to the mountain-top Bella Vista hotel in Santa Chiara to hit the slopes but also investigate the activities of a gang of smugglers reputed to be operating from there. On the train out of London they meet a group of holidaying Brits including Colonel Buckfast and his harridan of a wife and Jimmy, Caro and Roger, a trio of wealthy bright young things. At the resort they all notice the rather incongruous figure of Fritz Hauser, who doesn’t ski and goes around with a gun. Added colour is provided by an Italian noblewoman who is having a fling with a poor artist and her children’s nanny, who it turns out blames Hauser for the death of her parents in the war. Tibbett immediately pegs Hauser as the leader of the smuggling ring, and he is quickly proved right but not before the man is found shot dead. And needless to say, lots of people wanted him out of the way – from those he was blackmailing (including the owner of the hotel) to a young woman who had been promised to him in marriage against her wishes. Tibbett ends up helping Capitano Spezzi in his investigation (it turns out our hero speaks very good Italian, among his many other talents).
It is, of course, traditional for ski instructors to be handsome. But Pietro was outstanding, even among ski instructors.
This is a conventional, well-upholstered Golden Age style mystery – the murder victim is universally loathed and all the suspects are stuck in a single location – which makes it perfectly enjoyable but is also rather predictable, due to its strict adherence to genre conventions. But at least the Italians and the other ‘foreigners’ (of course, it’s the Brits that are the foreigners here, but you’d never know it …) come out of it OK, I’m glad to say. And the lingo is mainly accurate, apart from a few minor but typical errors (confound it, you spell fettucine with an ‘e’ at the end!) If you enjoy a good old-fashioned murder mystery, one in which clues are hidden in long and complicated timetables (this one has not one but two of those) then this is for you. Me, I quite liked it but also found that it dragged a bit – at just before the 200-page mark Tibbett claims to have it all solved and then another murder is committed, which makes the novel go on for another 100 pages, which for this reader was definitely too long, though the action climax down the slopes provides an unexpected and enjoyable flourish at the finish.
The Inspector Henry Tibbett Mysteries
- Dead Men Don’t Ski (1959)
- The Sunken Sailor (1961, US title: Down Among the Dead Men)
- Death on the Agenda (1962)
- Murder a la Mode (1963)
- Falling Star (1964)
- Johnny Under Ground (1965)
- Murder Fantastical (1967)
- Death and the Dutch Uncle (1968)
- Who Saw Her Die? (1970, US title: Many Deadly Returns)
- Season of Snows and Sins (1971)
- The Curious Affair of the Third Dog (1973)
- Black Widower (1975)
- To Kill a Coconut (1977, US title: The Coconut Killings)
- Who Is Simon Warwick? (1978) – review
- Angel Death (1980)
- A Six-Letter Word for Death (1983)
- Night Ferry to Death (1985)
- Black Girl, White Girl (1989)
- Twice in a Blue Moon (1993)
For more detailed looks at this mystery, you should check out what several of my blogging buddies have said about it, including Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist; and Les Blatt over at Classic Mysteries; there is also a really good profile of Moyes over at Mystery Scene written by Katherine Hall Page.
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Golden Age Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘skull’ category: