Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Final Days of Abbot Montrose

 "Dear Krag, are we all bewitched? How did this piece of paper come to be taken from a locked compartment in the police station and arrive in the possession of this very intoxicated man? Why did he crumple it in his hand, as if life and death depended on its possession? Why was he murdered? And who exactly is this man anyway? (Detective Sirius Keller) The Final Days of Abbot Montrose [aka Montrose] (1917) by Sven Elvestad

A policeman is on his rounds one evening in May when he hears noises from the house of the Abbot Montrose. He summons aid and when he and his colleague reach the scene, they find evidence of a fierce fight, bloodstains, broken glass, a remnant of the Abbot's vestments--but no sign of the gentleman. Detective Sirius Keller and Detective Asbjørn Krag are assigned to the case and it turns out to be quite a tricky one. That there has been a robbery, there is no doubt. But what has happened to the Abbot? Is he dead? Has he been kidnapped by the thieves? Did he go willingly. The detectives suspect the worst. Despite the fact that all the clues seem to point to Arnold Singer, a man who worked in the Abbot's gardens, Krag thinks there is more to it than meets the eye. Things get confusing when a man claiming to be the Abbot shows up at the inn owned by Singer's father-in-law. Then a note is received in the Abbot's handwriting that indicates that he is, indeed, alive. Singer makes two confessions. Detective Keller is tied up twice. And two men are really killed. But is either of them the Abbot? You'll just have to read this for yourself to find out.

At its core, this is a very well-plotted puzzle with intricate clues that lead back to the initial event. It took me a while to settle into the translated style--some of the scenes seemed a bit disjointed to me,  but I'm pretty sure it was the style of the translation and not due to Elvestad's abilities as a writer. His plot is action-packed and new clues pop up in almost every chapter. It almost reads like one of those cliff-hanging serials--though our heroes aren't in danger at the end of each episode. It's more like "And now our heroes have been given clue X...join us in the next chapter to see what our daring detectives will make of this...." He has a solid mystery, great descriptions of the locales, and well-defined characters. I particularly enjoyed the bantering relationship between Keller and Krag (see 5th quote below for an example). These two obviously know each other well and can give each other a hard time without hard feelings. The ending took me completely by surprise and the unique solution really helped offset the difficulties I had early on with the translated style. Thanks to Kazabo Publishing for sending me this interesting early Norwegian mystery. ★★★★

First line: Policeman Number 314 put his police whistle in his pocket, stood motionless, and peered down the street.

Number 314 is standing next to the desk and eating his buttered bread with slow deliberation. Nothing prevents a policeman from eating his sandwich in the evening. Often lonesome souls walking at night can hear paper rustling from a darkened gateway, that's the policeman eating his sandwich. In many quiet cities nothing happens over the long nights at all except that the policeman eats his sandwich.  (p. 6)

There lay Keller, bound hand and foot, with a gag in his mouth. Krag undid the gag, and while he was still cutting Keller's bindings, his friend vented his anger with a volley of curses so inspired that Krag wished he were taking notes. (p. 69)

"The more complicated a thing is," said Krag, "the simpler the solution must be. Once you have found the right thread, any knot may be unraveled smoothly." (p. 106) [shades of Sherlock Holmes]

"Are you taking notes? Is that exactly what he said?" (Krag)
"No. I memorized it and I'm going to take it on stage as a cabaret act. Yes, of course I'm taking notes." (Keller; p. 153) [Gotta love the sarcasm.]

Last line: And Asbjørn Krag is at work once again.
Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one shot)

 ~~~A pdf copy of the book was given to me as a review copy by Kazabo Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All comments are my own and I have received no payment of any kind.

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