Dead Men Don’t Ski (1959) by Patricia Moyes

Source: Review Copy (Felony and Mayhem)

I have dabbled in Moyes’ Henry Tibbett series occasionally and so far fairly enjoyed it. Today I am reviewing the first in the series, which is fittingly set in January. This time Henry and his wife, Emmy, are off on a skiing trip in a remote Italian hotel, which can only be reached via a ski lift. Of course on their way to the resort they become acquainted with a number of holidaymakers who are going to the same place as them, including a colonel and his exacting wife, three young folk from high society and a brilliantly beautiful Italian woman who is off to join her children and a mysterious other. Further acquaintances are also made at the hotel including an unpleasant man named Fritz Hauser and another German family. Yet all is not as it seems, not even the Tibbett’s holiday, as Henry has also been tasked with looking out for any evidence of a dope smuggling operation taking place. He has his suspicions, in between taking skiing lessons, but is unprepared when murder strikes most vividly, with Hauser being found dead by the attendant at the bottom of the ski-lift – seemingly having been shot during his journey down. Unsurprisingly a lot of people Tibbett has got to know were travelling up the ski-lift as Hauser was going down and that most of them had some reason why they would be happy if he died. Marital blackmail, Jewish persecution and unwanted romantic attentions all provide a motive for Hauser’s demise. This is a tough case for Tibbett to assist in, alongside the Italian police and even I only guessed one half of it correctly, but at last the pieces all fall together and Tibbett has to race against time to prevent an even greater catastrophe.

Overall Thoughts

I think this has to be my favourite Moyes novel to date. It is only her first mystery in the series, yet she seems to get so much right so quickly. She recreates the holiday group and skiing milieu really well and despite there being a biggish cast, all the characters are memorable and it is easy to soon begin investing in them and finding out whether they will untangle themselves from the predicaments they have put themselves in – which incidentally leads to quite an unexpectedly powerful ending. It was also enjoyable to see some unexpected secrets from certain characters. Of course Tibbett and his wife are a delightful duo to follow and I like how he feels he is misunderstood by his work colleagues, saying to his wife that he is no adventurer but that “… things always seem to blow up at my feet.” The narrative goes on to say that ‘the consequence was that he had a wide and quite undeserved reputation as a desperado, an adventurer who hid his bravura under a mask of meekness: and his repeated assertions that he only wanted to lead a quiet life naturally fed the flames of this rumour.’ On the whole I would say Tibbett belongs in the group of investigators who are distinguishable by their ordinariness:

‘Henry Tibbett was not a man who looked like a great detective. In fact, as he would be the first to point out, he was not a great detective, but a conscientious and observant policeman, with an occasional flair for intuitive detection which he called “my nose”’.

The crime scene is an inventive choice and comes upon the reader suddenly and those who enjoy a good puzzle will appreciate the time tables of suspects’ movements provided.

Returning to the milieu of the book, Moyes is good at adding in engaging nuggets of social and political information, such as Tibbett being shocked at it costing 5 shilling for a bath. During the book one of the young society figures, Caroline Whittaker, temporarily seems to fall in love with the good looking ski instructor. It was amusing to read that even at this early point this was already deemed to be a social cliché, making you wonder whether it has always been that way. As a first book it is perhaps a little too long, but Moyes’ strong writing style remains throughout and I think there is enough plot action and character development to forgive this issue. Unsurprisingly this is a book I would definitely recommend and since it has just been reprinted by Felony and Mayhem getting a hold of a copy will not be a problem.

Rating: 4.5/5

Just the Facts the Ma’am (Gold Card): Man or woman referenced in the title

With such a great book it is not surprising that I have come late to the party as all these lovely bloggers have also reviewed this title: Classic Mysteries, Noah’s Archives, Tipping my Fedora, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

12 comments

  1. This one’s certainly better than Black Widower, Kate, but there are even better ones coming at you if you continue! I devoured Moyes in my 20’s. She started strong, got even better, and only faltered in the last few. She would have fit into the Golden Age quite well! Now that they are being republished, I should consider re-reading a few of my favorites. But time . . . time . . . !! There’s never enough of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I think I said before, I had a friend at university who insisted that this was the greatest mystery novel ever written. This struck me as such an audacious claim that I could never really take it seriously at the time and spurned all his attempts to lend it to me and yet these days I find I am curious to discover what he saw in it.
    It helps that you found it to be very good too, even if you don’t go quite so far in your praise of it, and I will push it that little bit higher on my TBR pile as a result!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the review. 🙂 I’ve only read one novel by Patricia Moyes, called “Who Saw Her Die?”. I don’t recall disliking it, but I don’t recall being especially enamoured either… This one sounds like something I would like – though the first parallel that came into mind was not the golden age genre, but the Japanese mystery manga genre. I’m positive Kindaichi and Conan had quite a few stories set around people stranded in a ski lodge, and alibis forged and broken over crossing between two areas on a ski cable car. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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