Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Death Finds a Foothold: Review

Death Finds a Foothold (1961) is the 14th mystery in Glyn Carr's [Frank Stowell Styes] Sir Abercrombie Lewker series. Lewker is a former commando, celebrated Shakespearean actor, and accomplished mountain climber. He's sortof the Jessica Fletcher of the mountaineering crowd, though--where he goes death seems to follow. On this particular outing, Lewker heads to Snowdonia, Wales for the annual dinner meet of the Foothold Club at the Pen-y-Pass Hotel. The Club has over 400 hundred members--all of whom are welcome at the general annual dinner, but only the current president, past presidents, the original founding members of the club, and their invited guests are allowed at the dinner meet. Lewker extends his invitation to his old friend Detective Inspector George Grimmett, knowing that Grimmett has long been curious, as a student of human nature, to study the mountaineering fraternity (and sorority) in their natural habitat. He also plans to talk the Inspector into climbing a bit himself.

They have just settled in their room with plans to change for dinner, when the current president, Mark Stoner comes in to consult Lewker--known for his abilities as an amateur sleuth--and finds that he has the added bonus of a detective inspector. Stoner has received a threatening letter

You thought youd got away with it but its catching up with you you dirty skunk your not fit to live and wont if you persist in taking the job so watch out.

The president is baffled and yet frightened. He can't think what "job" the anonymous letter writer is referring to and he can't think of anyone who might have animus against him. But he feels the threat nonetheless.

But when tragedy strikes the next day, it's not the president who dies. Professor Julius Wiernick, who is a particularly odious man with few, if any, friends, but a brilliant climber falls to his death in what appears to be an accident. Wiernick was climbing with another seasoned mountaineer, Donald Ferguson, and Ferguson's niece Flora Massey. The Professor was lead on the team and had decided to take an alternate route on what should have been a fairly moderate climb--just to add a bit of challenge. The route took him out of sight of his fellow climbers and that's when he fell. Neither Lewker nor Inspector Grimmett are inclined to believe that this was an accident. And when a note just like the one Stoner received is found in Wiernick's pocket, it seems they are right. But tracking down who had a motive as well as the opportunity to kill a man on a fairly tricky bit of rock face will take some doing. And what did the man's cry of "Jack!" right before his fall mean?

At first, it seems that the detective duo has an impossible crime on their hands. Those with motive either have alibis or would have been hard pressed to get themselves into position to kill the professor in the time allowed. When another death occurs, it becomes apparent that the past event mentioned is at the heart of the mystery and they will have to unearth the details before they can catch their man...or woman.

Just a few thoughts on this one--possible spoiler in next paragraph. First, Sir Abercrombie makes it plain that those who know him well and whom he considers friends don't call him "Filthy" (although apparently someone, somewhere does--otherwise, why bring it up?). In fact, nobody in the whole book calls him by that name. So why on earth do we even bring that name up; why does the back of the book insist on calling him "Filthy" Lewker; and why is the series known under that name on various sites? I mean, sure, it's an obvious play on his name--but it'd work better if Carr had actually made something of the play on words.

Second, once the reader knows that the professor's death was murder, it becomes obvious who did it. Might not know exactly how, might not know the details on why--but definitely who. And speaking of how--I'm not sure exactly how that trick was worked. There's no way on earth I can see that you, as murderer, could have been sure that the rope would catch in the way it had to and would leave Wiernick's body dangling (sorry for the image) in the way it was found. 

But, those two quibbles aside, this is very interesting mystery. I'm quite taken with Sir Abercrombie (who, admittedly, is a bit taken with himself) even though he does lecture Inspector Grimmett a bit much on his own job. Carr manages to deliver necessary mountain-climbing details to the uninitiated in a manner that is absorbing rather than overwhelming or boring and his descriptions of the area in Wales is delightful. Once the denouement arrives, the readers also finds that Carr has played fair--displaying his clues and even allowing Sir Abercrombie to recite most of them to us. I still didn't pick up on the meaning of a couple of them. An entertaining read...earning ★★and a half.

This fulfills the "Snow/Snowy Scene" category on the Silver Scavenger Hunt card.

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