Gonna Climb a Mountain*

MountainsThe ‘photo shows one of the real natural treasures of Colorado – the US Rocky Mountains. Little wonder Colorado’s called the Rocky Mountain State, and Denver’s baseball team is the Colorado Rockies. The mountains are breathtaking, even from a distance. But of course, mountains can be awfully dangerous too, even if one’s accustomed to living in them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s plenty of mountainous crime fiction out there. Space only allows for a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I leave.

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski introduces readers to Scotland Yard inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In this novel, they take a trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, where they stay at the Bella Vista Hotel. This hotel caters mostly to skiers, and it’s only accessible via a long ski lift. That ski lift becomes a crime scene when of the hotel’s guests Fritz Hauser is shot and his body found on one of the downward facing cars. Capitano Spezzi and his team take on the investigation, and when Spezzi finds out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he gradually takes takes Tibbett into his confidence. Together they begin to investigate, and as they do, they learn that several people at the hotel have been hiding things. It turns out that there are several people who had a motive to murder the victim. Then there’s another murder. Now the two sleuths have to find out how those two deaths are connected.

In Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming investigates the murder of Cody Pritchard. The victim’s body was found on public land, and there’s not much evidence at first to connect him with the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Jacob Esper is shot by what appears to be the same gun. Now Longmire suspects he knows what may be behind these deaths. The two victims were part of a group of four young men who gang-raped then-sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. All four got off with what many people thought was far too light a sentence. That fact, plus some of the evidence, suggests that the killer might be a member of the Cheyenne Nation out for revenge. If so, most people won’t be in a hurry to go after that person, and the killer could be planning to target the other two young men involved in the earlier crime. So Longmire decides to track them down and try to prevent more murders. That proves to be far more difficult than he thinks, and he and his friend Henry Standing Bear end up following the trail of one of them into the mountains. When a sudden storm comes up, they end up in as much danger from nature as from the killer.

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat is set mostly in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to work at that park, and she’s settled into her job. One day Pigeon discovers the body of fellow Ranger Sheila Drury. She immediately reports the death and the police machinery is put into motion. It looks at first as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon’s hoping that’s not so. If the news gets out that a mountain lion was responsible for killing a human, it’s likely that all of the other mountain lions in the area will soon become targets for the locals. And that might put the lion population in real danger, since many of the area’s residents are none too fond of them. Besides, Pigeon has noticed a few things that aren’t consistent with murder by a big cat. So she begins to ask questions about Drury’s death, and comes up against something going on at the park that’s bigger than she had imagined.

Sam Hilliard’s Mike Brody is a former Special Forces operative who now operates an extreme adventure company S&B Outfitters. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife Jessica Barrett had arranged a holiday at Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. Despite the awkwardness, they decide to go ahead with that plan, hoping that it’ll be good for their son Andy. While they’re there, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson disappears from the ranch, where he was staying with his family. It turns out that Sean witnessed the murder of David St. John, and he’s afraid that the killer might have seen him and might come after him. So he’s run off without thinking things through – straight into some very unforgiving country. Detective Lisbeth McCarthy has found out that Brody is in the area and asks for his help in tracking Sean before the killer, or the elements, find him.

And then there’s Anne Holt’s 1222. A group of passengers is en route by train from Oslo to Bergen when there’s a crash that kills the conductor. The passengers are rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. Among those stranded by the crash is former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson, who simply wants to be left alone to live her life. But when there’s a murder at the hotel, she’s drawn into it very much against her will. Then there’s another death. And another. Now she’ll have to use her detection skills to catch the killer if there are to be no more murders.

There’s also Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone, which features Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable) decide to have a private getaway. Their plan is to take a trip to Banff, Alberta and enjoy the natural beauty – and each other’s company. Everything changes though when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. It’s not going to be easy to find him either, as he’s a very experienced camper who’s accustomed to outdoor life. What’s more, he could well be guilty of a murder that’s recently been committed, so he has to be found as quickly as possible. Lucky’s daughter, Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, doesn’t have jurisdiction in the Banff area, but she goes there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. While she’s there, Matt Keller’s girlfriend asks her to find him and help clear his name. So Smith begins to ask questions. She soon finds out that the natural dangers on a mountain are far from the only threats to her…

So as you see, mountains are beautiful. They’re important parts of the ecosystem too, and they’re delightful holiday destinations too. But safe?

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See?


Filed under Anne Holt, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, Patricia Moyes, Sam Hilliard, Vicki Delany

25 responses to “Gonna Climb a Mountain*

  1. In Michael Koryta’s THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, a mountain (and a forest fire) play a major role in the ending. Mountains are one of nature’s 50/50 items to me – they’re so beautiful, but so dangerous at the same time. Margot, as always, an intriguing post to make us ponder. 🙂

    • Mason – Thanks very much for that suggestion. You’ve reminded me too that I need to spotlight a Michael Koryta novel at some point. And yes, mountains are absolutely beautiful, but dangerous.

  2. tracybham

    I have read all of Moyes’ books, but I do want to continue to read more of the series by Craig Johnson and Vicki Delamey’s books. I remember The Cold Dish well. I did not enjoy the part when they were in the mountains in a storm. But his books are very good.

    • Tracy – I think Johnson is very talented. I think you do have to be ready for certain kinds of scenes to enjoy that part of the novel. But I think it depicts the setting very well.

  3. Margot, an English mountaineer and author named Showell Styles wrote a series of more than a dozen first-rate mostly “impossible crime” mysteries set among mountaineers and involving famous and not-so-famous mountain ranges, featuring a mountain-climbing actor, Abercrombie “Filthy” Lewker. He wrote under the name Glyn Carr, beginning in 1951 with “Death on Milestone Buttress.” The author said that while he was climbing Milestone Buttress in Wales, it occurred to him “how easy it would be to arrange an undetectable murder in that place, and by way of experiment I worked out the system and wove a thinnish plot around it.” Nothing thinnish about his plots in the books I’ve read; as publisher Tom Schantz puts it, “Styles managed to find a way to lock the door of a room that had no walls and only the sky for a ceiling.” I’m far too much of a chicken to do any mountaineering, but Glyn Carr loved the sport and the people and put them into intricate puzzles. Rue Morgue Press republished 5 of them, and I think they’re still available.

    • Les – Oh, that’s really interesting. It’s certainly a fine context for a mystery, whether an ‘impossible’ crime or not. As you say, it’d be nearly impossible to determine whether a death was a murder or not, even if you could find the body. Sounds as though this is a series I should be more familiar with than I am. Thanks for filling in the gap.

  4. the title is powerful – it also reminded me of a book “I’m Gonna Climb a Mountain in My Patent Leather Shoes” Sadie is all set for her family’s rustic camping trip—she’s packed her favorite patent leather shoes, ballerina skirt, and other stylish accessories in her sparkly suitcase—everything a girl needs in order to have an adventure!

  5. I really enjoyed Susanna Jones’ ‘When Nights Were Cold’ – set in the early twentieth century it’s about a group of four women who go against convention to take up mountain climbing…but we are seeing the story in flashback from the single survivor. Apart from being a good mystery, it has quite a lot to say about the restrictions placed on women back then and also about the line between sanity and madness…

    Thanks for this subject, Margot – you’ve reminded me I really meant to follow up on Jones’ other books. 🙂

    • Oh, FictionFan, that sounds like a corker of a read. And I can well imagine that the mountain setting would add urgency and a lot else too to the whole situation. Now I must put that one on my list. So thanks…. I think 😉

  6. Margot: I can recall a couple of mysteries I have read featuring mountains as characters as much as settings. Both were in the Alps.

    The first is from the series mentioned above by Glyn Carr. It sees Filthy Lewker in Murder on the Matterhorn.

    The other was The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian. I liked the book better than the Clint Eastwood movie.

    • Bill – I see I’m going to have to read the Lewker series. After you and Les both mention it, I’ll have to explore it. And thanks for the reminder of The Eiger Sanction. It certainly is a perfect fit for what I had in mind for this post. And the Alps look so peaceful and serene on the surface…

  7. Col

    I don’t think I have come across this in my own reading yet, or if I can I can’t recall it. I have the Eiger Sanction somewhere in the stacks, so one day then!

  8. Ellis Peters -later to become famous for writing Cadfael mysteries – published The Will and the Deed in 1960, where a small aeroplane makes a forced landing in an alpine village, and soon there are deaths and dirty work on the mountains and slopes. Also there’s a Mary Stewart book called Wildfire at Midnight, one of her romantic thrillers, where there is a lot of mountain-climbing on the island of Skye in Scotland – the timeframe of the book is matched up with the conquering of Everest in 1953, it’s very neatly done.

    • Moira – Oh, I remember reading Mary Stewart’s work. I haven’t in a while, so I’m glad of the reminder. I’m also glad of the reminder of that Ellis Peters novel – one I hadn’t read. I admire the way she tried out different things within the genre, and of course, there’s Cadfael…

  9. Not much of a mountaineer myself (though i did go trekking in the Himalayas, in ym late teens) – Which reminds me that I have to get hold of a copy of Anne Holt’s 1222 – thanks Margot!

    • Sergio – I didn’t know you’ve been in the Himalayas! That’s fascinating! I have no such brave adventures to share, I’m afraid. I do hope that if you get to read 1222, you’ll like it.

  10. Having an awful fear of heights, I don’t even venture in the mountains in my reading.

  11. I’m lucky enough to live in hills (not mountains) but it is wonderful here. The only issue is the inclement weather which, when hits, can be horrendous. I love Anne Holt’s 1222. I read it one stormy night.

    • Sarah – Oh, you are indeed lucky. You’re right about the weather; it’s not only inclement, but it’s unreliable, so you have to learn to be careful. But still… And yes, 1222 is excellent.

  12. Enjoyed this, Margot. Can I add this? One of Margaret Yorke’s Patrick Grant mysteries, Silent Witness, is set in the Austrian Alps. It opens with a body descending on a stairlift. The resort is cut off by an avalanche and other deaths follow. It’s ages since I read it, but I remember really enjoying it. She’s such a good writer.

    • Chrissie – You certainly may add the Yorke; it sounds great. I’ve always liked her writing. She had the ability to weave a very suspenseful story, yet at the same time, she also created interesting characters. She is much missed.

  13. Pingback: 1222 by Anne Holt | Tipping My Fedora

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