The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
Only a fool would turn down an invitation to skedaddle out of London and head for the Alps: sunshine, blue skies, powdered-sugar snow, and plenty of hot cocoa. One might take an exhilarating run down a slope, stroll through the village, make friends with a cow, cut a rug at an aprés-ski party, and … oopsie, get caught up in a bit of murder.
In western Europe, the dark cloud of war has dissipated, and the new year of 1951 is about to begin. On January 1, a group of bright young things leaves London’s gray, cold oppressiveness behind to ski, dance, and perhaps, romance in the Austrian Alps. What could possibly go wrong?
Miss Bridget Manners is in a bit of a tizzy. Her carefully organized ski party of eight girls and eight young men is about to unravel, just hours before they’re meant to board a train at Victoria station. But phone calls and friends-of-friends save the day, and soon the motley crew of acquaintances, siblings, and interesting strangers is on its way to the mountaintop resort of Lech am Arlberg.
As they tromp through the woods and explore the village, we gradually get to know the diverse characters. Author Carol Carnac (the pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett) plays a neat trick: At the beginning of the book, keeping straight who’s who is a bit of a challenge — just as it is for the characters themselves. They’re mostly unknown to each other, and conversation runs toward the awkward and circumspect. But, really, who cares when a young man is ‘a pretty fair skier and keen on dancing and he’s traveled a lot.’
Meanwhile, in a downtrodden corner of London, a mysterious fire leaves a victim among the ashes, and Inspector Julian River of Scotland Yard is on the case. He discovers a curious clue that indicates the culprit is a skier. And we begin to suspect all might not be as it seems among Miss Manners’ holiday revelers.
As the plot smoothly slaloms between the storylines, there’s also a marked contrast betwixt the carefree revelry of the ski party and the relentless, procedural approach of the dogged policemen. And although World War II is in the rearview mirror, the emotional bruises of those dangerous years are still tender and healing.
Eventually, Inspector Rivers’ investigation leads him to the mountains for a daring ski chase and the big reveal of What’s Really Going On Here. It’s clever, entertaining, and very satisfying.
It was also inspired, in part, by a real-life ski trip taken by the author in 1951, when she skied with 15 friends at Lech am Arlberg. Carnac dedicated this novel to them ‘with thanks for their help and advice, and happy memories of their charming company. May they never Cross their Skis.’
It was lovely: even on the railway track and on the long low platform, they were conscious of the snow peaks rising gloriously into the soft blue of the afternoon sky, of the crisp powdery dryness of snow which had a totally different quality from the squalid soiled snow of London streets. In the intense light, reflected back from white ground and roofs and slopes, everybody looked different: dark was darker, fair was fairer, color was brighter. Clearly defined, sharp cut, brilliantly lit, everything had a quality of vividness and vitality which was exciting, so that fatigue was forgotten and laughter bubbled up in a world which was as lovely as a fairy tale. — Carol Carnac
This classic whodunnit (256 pages) was published in March of 2020 by British Library Crime Classics. The book takes you to the Alps just after WWII. Melissa read Crossed Skis and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of padu_foto/Shutterstock.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.