Posts Tagged ‘Wales’

death on milestone buttress glyn carr 001Death on Milestone Buttress by Glyn Carr ~ 1951. This edition: The Crime Club, 1951. Paperback. 256 pages.

Provenance: Quesnel Family Thrift Store, October 2013. Previous book owner: Rebecca Lund, who enthusiastically rubber-stamped her name and address on all of her books, in numerous places. I know this because I have acquired a large number of them over the past few years; we obviously share a similar taste in books.

Or perhaps shared is more correct; I strongly suspect that Ms. Lund has passed on and that her books were subsequently donated to the thrift store; there do seem to be an awful lot of them, and they do look like they were carefully collected over a number of years by a dedicated reader. (Note to self: write codicil in will regarding which favourite second hand bookseller shall be the recipient of my own collection…)

My rating: 4.95/10 – I can’t quite put this at a 5 on my personal “enjoyment level” rating scale, and while it’s a very much okay specimen of its genre it’s not quite special enough to inspire me to seek out any more by this author.

Though perhaps I dismiss Glyn Carr too soon; he did go on to write fourteen more mysteries starring his stately, erudite and multi-talented Shakespearian actor/mountaineer amateur detective, Abercrombie Lewker.

Here’s the rundown on the plot, courtesy Rue Morgue Press, which has recently republished this vintage mystery, among many others. Check out their website – what a treasure trove of information on the genre! Rue Morgue Press republishes obscurish vintage mystery novels, and also deals in used copies of rare and out-of-print detective fiction.

Abercrombie (“Filthy”) Lewker was looking forward to a fortnight of climbing in Wales after a grueling season touring England with his Shakespearean company. Young Hilary Bourne thought the fresh air would be a pleasant change from her dreary job at the bank, as well as a chance to renew her acquaintance with a certain young scientist. Neither one expected this bucolic outing to turn deadly, but when one of their party is killed in an apparent accident during what should have been an easy climb on the Milestone Buttress, Filthy and Hilary turn detective. Nearly every member of the climbing party had reason to hate the victim, but each one also had an alibi for the time of the murder. Working as a team, Filthy and Hilary retrace the route of the fatal climb before returning to their lodgings where, in the grand tradition of Nero Wolfe, Filthy confronts the suspects and points his finger at the only person who could have committed the crime. Filled with climbing details sure to appeal to both expert climbers and armchair mountaineers alike, Death on Milestone Buttress was published in England in 1951, the first of fifteen detective novels in which Abercrombie Lewker outwitted murderers on peaks scattered around the globe.

And while we’re over cribbing info from the Rue Morgue Press site, here’s a snippet of their Glyn Carr Author Biography. (Much expanded on the site – please click through to read the rest.)

If you look upon a mountain climb as taking place in a large, open-air locked room, then Showell Styles was right to choose Glyn Carr as his pseudonym for fifteen detective novels featuring Abercrombie Lewker, all of which concern murders committed among the crags and slopes of peaks scattered around the world. There’s no doubt that John Dickson Carr, the king of the locked room mystery, would have agreed that Styles managed to find a way to lock the door of a room that had no walls and only the sky for a ceiling. In fact, it was while Styles was climbing a pitch on the classic Milestone Buttress on Tryfan in Wales that it struck 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.”

That book was, of course, Death on Milestone Buttress

So – what am I going to say about this fairly standard issue mystery tale? Perhaps I’ll just note some likes and dislikes, and leave it at that.

I liked:

  • The characterizations of both of the leading characters, Shakespearian actor Abercrombie Lewker and bank “calculating machine operator” Hilary Bourne. Both are nicely presented and sympathetically portrayed, though as the book progresses it is Hilary who stays much more real, while Lewker becomes a parody of the Hercule Poirot/Nero Wolfe type of detective, easily analyzing esoteric information with his great big superior brain, as it were. Though he is much more active physically than both of his fictional counterparts, being an accomplished amateur climber despite his less than boyish figure.
  • The mountaineering details and the descriptions of the Welsh setting, which seemed sincere and plausible.
  • The parody-like period setting, with the several sincere Communists being viewed by their acquaintances as slightly eccentric, mostly harmless, and generally rather figures of fun. The scientists who also play main roles (one is eventually the murderee) are of course working on a Great Big (not very secret) Secret Project, which when completed will apparently be The Weapon To Beat The Atomic Bomb. Quite ridiculous, the whole thing, and it rather felt like that was intentional. In any event, that’s how I viewed it, and it helped me make it through even when I found the complications of the plot rather uphill going.

I disliked:

  • The grotesque attempts at slang and dialect which were completely incomprehensible and too over-the-top, even given that the speakers of the garbled dialogue were generally meant to be figures of fun.
  • The predictability of the plot. I guessed the murderer very early on, and the red herrings provided were small and not particularly enticing.
  • The absolute unlikableness of the murderee. He had no redeeming traits whatsoever, except for his intellectual abilities as a scientist. No one cries when he dies. (Not for his loss, anyway. Though there are tears because of the multiple situations created by his death.) Created by the writer to be blithely killed off, one rather feels.
  • The love affair between Hilary and one of her fellow vacationers – absolutely meh.
  • The whole “smarter than the police” thing. Lewker takes on the mantle of Nemesis without official sanction, and all of the other players meekly fall into order without a whisper of protest. Including the murderer, who then goes on to an über-predictable end, with detective story justice thus being served with no boring paperwork to fill out or tedious trials to sit through

And that is all I have to say about Death on Milestone Buttress. Here is a rather more even-handed discussion on the Dust and Corruption blog, worth taking a look at.

Oh – there was one more thing. Check out the back cover of my paperback, which features yet more rocks, these with gold and platinum settings. How’s this for period appeal? Check out the ad copy, and those prices!

death on milestone buttress glyn carr back cover advert 001

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