Silent Witness (1972) by Margaret Yorke
The most silent witness of all is a dead one...
Set at an Austrian ski station at Greutz, we have an international mix of characters. A travel group from Britain, a vacationing couple from Holland, and few Germans. The day before a snowstorm and threats of avalanche cuts Greutz off from the outside world, a young newlywed has a dangerous skiing accident when her skis are tampered with. And why doesn't her new husband visit her more often? One of the guests makes a mysterious visit to local chalet. Fiona, the operator of the hotel discotheque, flirts outrageously with everything in pants but then gets drunk and drapes herself over the quietest, most unlikely guest. Freddie Derrington and Barbara Whittaker claim never to have met, but seem all-too studious in the avoidance of each other. Liz Morris senses tension in the air, but puts it down to the enforced inactivity once the skiing slopes are shut down.
Then Bernard Walker goes missing. At first, no one notices. Walker was such a nondescript man. Didn't really join in with the others in most activities and liked to ski alone after the skiing classes had finished. But after he hadn't been seen at meals and then it was discovered that his bed hadn't been slept in, the travel guide got worried. Liz Morris's fried Patrick Grant, Oxford don and sometimes amateur sleuth, had just arrived with the last group of tourists before the snow storm. He's staying with his friend Professor Klocker. Liz tells him about the missing man and Patrick is sure that something nasty has happened to Bernard. When Bernard's body is found in the stream under the bridge connecting the ski lodge with the village, it looks like an unfortunate accident--at least the burgomeister would like to think so. But Patrick wonders what the fussy little man was doing out in the snow without his galoshes. And why he has a suspicious lump behind his ear. Did Bernard witness something that someone wanted to keep quiet? Was someone jealous of the attention Fiona gave him that night at discotheque? Patrick won't be satisfied until he figures it out
Yorke sets the scene for a nice little closed circle mystery--snowbound ski lodge and tense atmosphere. Lots of red herrings to investigate and wade through before finding the answer. And I love me a mystery with an academic connection--and we have both an Oxford don and a professor in the cast of characters. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of clues to the murderer and the motive. I actually guessed who the killer was even though I can't point to any good reasons for my guess based on the text. When I found out the motive, the plot fell kind of flat. [spoiler encoded in ROT13*] V jnfa'g ng nyy gnxra jvgu gur snpg gung Tenag'f sevraq jnf gur xvyyre. Naq gura gb unir uvz xvyy Oreaneq orpnhfr ur "guvaxf" gur zna bireurneq uvz gnyxvat nobhg trggvat Senh Uvyyre bhg bs gur pbhagel. Naq, dhvgr senaxyl, jub jnf Oreaneq tbvat gb gryy? Gurl'er fabjobhaq--ab Pbzzhavfg ntragf ner tbvat gb pbzr ohmmvat vagb gur ivyyntr gb gnxr Senh Uvyyre onpx be xvyy ure. Vg jbhyq unir orra qvssrerag vs Oreaneq guerngrarq gb fcvyy gur ornaf be gevrq gb oynpxznvy gurz be vs gurer unq orra n erzbgr cbffvovyvgl gung ur pbhyq trg jbeq gb nalobql jbegu gryyvat. Fheryl gb tbbqarff jr pbhyq unir qrivfrq n orggre zbgvir. Naq bar gung unq qrprag pyhrf juvpu gur ernqre zvtug cbffvoyl unir qvfpbirerq. Naq--jung gur urpx unccrarq gb Znk ng gur raq. Ur unq na "nppvqrag"--ur jnf bar bs gur orfg fxvref va gur tebhc. Ubj qvq ur unir na nppvqrag?
A very middle-of-the road mystery. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't all one could want either. Nice setting and set up, but could have used a better follow through. ★★★
First line: Through the softly-falling snow it came down to the valley, descending the mountain propped like a doll, frozen stiff in its seat.
Last line: "You see, it is best to run away," she said.
[*to decode: cut & paste coded part; click on ROT13 link and use site to read spoiler]
Deaths = 6 (two gas chambers WWII; one suffocated; one motorcycle accident; one climbing accident; one skiing accident)