In The Spotlight: Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski

>In The Spotlight: Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'dHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. There are plenty of fictional detectives who have to face personal demons, or are haunted by their pasts. So it can be very refreshing to read about a sleuth who actually has a stable marriage and a functional outlook on life. Such is Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett, whom we first meet in Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski. Let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today to take a look at a police detective who actually isn’t dysfunctional.

Tibbett and his wife Emmy take a skiing trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. They’ll be staying at the Bella Vista Hotel, which specialises in holidays for skiers. Although the Tibbetts travel as a couple rather than in a party, they begin to get to know their fellow travellers almost right from the beginning of the novel. There’s a young English group of friends; an Italian-born baroness, her children, and their governess; a German family; a British Colonel and his wife who are ‘regulars’ at the hotel; and an Austrian-born businessman Fritz Hauser, also a ‘regular.’

Tibbett and his wife notice undercurrents of tension right from the start of the trip. However, nothing really untoward happens until early one evening. Several of the hotel guests have just finished tea at a village café and gone up the ski lift to the hotel. That’s when the alarm is raised that Fritz Hauser has been shot. His body has been found on one of the downward-facing ski lift chairs and it seems that he was shot while riding the lift to the village. Capitano Spezzi and his team arrive and begin to investigate. When Spezzi discovers that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he works with Tibbett, at first grudgingly and then increasingly willingly.

As the detectives begin their search for the truth, they discover that there are several possible suspects among the hotel guests. Hauser was involved in smuggling, blackmail and other shady businesses and nearly everyone at the hotel has a reason to be glad he is dead. So part of the task facing the sleuths is unwrapping the layers of everyone’s history to find out what motives there may be. Another task is finding out exactly how the murder was accomplished. Whoever shot Hauser had to know when he would be on the ski lift, had to be in the right physical position to commit the crime, and had to have access to the weapon.

Tibbett thinks he has found the solution to the crime when there’s another death that seems to call his theory into question. But once he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, he and Spezzi are able to find out who the murderer is and what the motive is. There’s an argument that, as the saying goes, Hauser brought his fate on himself.

This novel has a lot of elements of the classic detective novel. There’s the ‘impossible-but-not-really’ murder,  the group of disparate people all together in a remote place, and the detective whose ‘nose,’ as Tibbett calls it, helps lead him to the truth. There’s also the series of clues: remarks that later have a lot of meaning; small incidents, and so on. That said though, this novel features more character development than is sometimes found in classic detective stories. As the novel unfolds, we gradually learn more and more about each character. We learn why each is really at the Bella Vista and how the characters’ histories intersect with Hauser’s. Readers who like to know something about the characters in their novels will be pleased.

Another important element in this novel is the detective Henry Tibbett and his relationship with his wife Emmy. Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, so he’s no amateur, and it shows. He behaves professionally, gathers evidence, makes sense of clues and conducts interviews. He also has a dose of compassion. As he gets to know the other characters, Tibbett feels for them. Even when he finds out who is behind the murders, that doesn’t lessen his feeling of sadness that things have worked out as they have. For her part, Emmy isn’t a cop, but Tibbett depends quite a lot on her intuition, intelligence and quick thinking. They make a very good team and their mutual respect is obvious. Readers who are tired of dysfunctional, demon-fighting drinkers as protagonists will be pleased with the Tibbetts. Neither is perfect, but they do make an effective pair.

It’s also worth noting that instead of the stereotypical ‘local cop doesn’t want interference from outside the patch’ scenario, Capitano Spezzi ends up working well with Tibbett. He and Tibbett disagree on some things, and in fact at one point, Spezzi feels he has no choice but to make an arrest in the case – an arrest Tibbett doesn’t want. But overall, each respects the other and they co-operate.

Another very important element in this novel is the setting. Most of the action takes place in a small Italian skiing town near the Austrian border. The town is located in a region which was part of Austria until it became incorporated into Italy. So there’s an interesting mix of history, cultures and some underlying tension as Moyes gives a bit of the history of the area. There is also of course, the breathtaking scenery:


‘Soon Chiusa was just a huddle of pink and ochre houses far below. Valleys opened out gloriously, houses lost their Italianate look and became steadily more and more Alpine, with wooden balconies and eyebrows of snow on their steep, overhanging eaves. Up and up the engine puffed and snorted, nearer and nearer to the snowfields and the pink peaks….
The village was set at the head of a long valley – a valley of which the floor itself was over 5,000 feet above sea-level. All round, the mountains stood in a semi-circle, at once protective and menacing. The village seemed very small and very brave, up there in the white heights.’


Skiing and the ski culture play important roles in the novel, too. Most of the guests are there to ski, so there are daily ski trips, lessons and so on. Oh, and I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that there’s a great ski-chase scene.

The mystery itself is believable once we know what and who is behind the events in the story. And as each person’s secret comes out (because just about everyone in the hotel has one), the behaviour of the characters makes sense. Henry and Emmy Tibbett and Capitano Spezzi solve the crime in a credible way too, and that gives the story just a hint of the police procedural. The story is a very sad one in a lot of ways, but there are flashes that things will work out for most of the characters.

Dead Men Don’t Ski is a classic-style whodunit/howdunit with a more modern emphasis on characters. It features a refreshingly normal (if I can put it that way) sleuth who actually has a good relationship with his wife/‘partner detective.’ The setting is unique and Moyes places the reader distinctly there. But what’s your view? Have you read Dead Men Don’t Ski? If you have, what elements do you see in it?



Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday 23 September/Tuesday 24 September – Needle in a Haystack – Ernesto Mallo

Monday 30 September/Tuesday 1 October – Out of the Silence: a Story of Love, Betrayal, Politics and Murder – Wendy James

Monday 7 October/Tuesday 8 October – The Marx Sisters – Barry Maitland


Filed under Dead Men Don't Ski, Patricia Moyes

28 responses to “In The Spotlight: Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski

  1. What a fun review for me to read. Moyes is a favorite author and this is one of the most memorable books in the series. This makes me want to read it again. Maybe next year. Another favorite in that series is Johnny Underground.

    I do prefer undamaged, stable policemen but I guess there is a place for the ones who have been affected by their work (as I just read the first few of the Brant series by Ken Bruen and enjoyed it immensely too). Depends on the writer and how they handle the plot and characters.

    • Tracy – I’m so glad you enjoyed this spotlight. I like the Henry Tibbett series too – very much – and I must re-read more of it. I think you have a point too about sleuths. A variety of sleuths (including both the damaged and the more stable) makes the genre richer, doesn’t it? As you say, it really depends on how skillfully the author handles the character.

  2. Margot, I’m really glad you featured Moyes, who – these days – is a sadly neglected writer if a tremendously talented one. I have always enjoyed her mysteries. She is very adept at creating characters and surprising her readers. Very often her characters seem to fall into stereotypical predictable characters – the retired British army officer, his constantly complaining wife, another woman unhappily married to a strict and rather terrifying German nobleman – you think you recognize these and many other characters. But you end up being surprised by their veru imstereptu[oca; behavior – and, I suspect, quite pleased to find that that predictability has been used quite neatly to fool you. I do hope somebody brings some of her other marvelous books about the Tibbetts back into print.

    • Umm…that’s supposed to be “unstereotypical.” There are times touch typing can bite you…

    • Les – That’s one of the things I like very much about Moyes’ work. She peels away the layers of her characters so that one only thinks one knows what they are like. As you say, once we get below that surface there’s a lot more there and it’s clear that Tibbett knows that. I like the fact that he and Emmy take the time to get to know the characters before rushing to judgement. And so should the wary reader. Moyes still manages to surprise though, even if the reader pays attention. I too hope that we’ll see more of her work back in print, or at least in ebook form.

  3. I loved this review, it reminded me of everything I like about the Patricia Moyes mysteries. I don’t believe I have read this one, but now will certainly seek it out. I think she is a very clever writer – one of her books (Who is Simon Warwick?) has one of the most cleverly-placed clues I have ever come across in a detective story, and another (maybe Murder Fantastical?) has a very unexpected final page. And I was thinking about Murder a la Mode, having just done a fashion-related murder story on my blog. So thanks for the usual high standard of In The Spotlight, and a push towards my getting out/getting hold of more Moyes.

    • Moira – Thanks for the kind words. I like Moyes’ writing too. And I think one of the things I like about her is that she’s clever without being too obvious about it (which, I suppose, makes her all the more clever doesn’t it?). She does have a way of surprising the reader as Les points out, and she draws interesting characters. I do recommend this one, as it’s the first Henry Tibbett novel and sort of gives a sense of the type of cop he is and the type of person Emmy is. I don’t think it’s absolutely essential to read the novels in order, but I think it gives a better overall view of the characters.

  4. That lack of personal domestic angst really is a bit of a turn on for me Margot – thanks so much for pointing this out. And the rest sound pretty good too 🙂

    • Sergio – I hope that if you try this one, you’ll like it. Among other things, it’s a great cultural look at the Italian/Austrian frontier of the 1950’s (that’s when the book was published). And yes, how refreshing it is that the Tibbetts are a stable couple.

  5. I’ve never read Moyes, but your review had me googling her stuff, which is the whole point of these spotlights 🙂 I definitely want to try her books to add some older books to my reading list.

  6. I love the title. Possibly not my kind of book but I enjoyed the review. Thanks!

  7. Right, this one is definitely going on my TBR list! I love skiing and there aren’t nearly enough books featuring skiing in any shape or form. Thank you, as usual, Margot, for inspiring me to seek out new (to me) writers!

    • Marina Sofia – How kind of you. I’m glad you enjoyed the spotlight. There’s definitely plenty of skiing to be had in this novel, and I think the alpine atmosphere is done brilliantly. I hope that, if you read this one, you enjoy it.

  8. Sounds interesting! An author I’ve never come across, and I do enjoy ‘normal’ detectives for a change…thanks for another interesting spotlight. 🙂

  9. I read every Moyes book and loved them all. I appreciated its portrait of a marriage along with other things. I miss this series.

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