The Youth Hostel Murders by Glyn Carr

June 13, 2015 at 8:26 pm (Book clubs, Book review, books, Italy, Mystery fiction)

yhmurders  The plan was, I’d write up the Usual Suspects’ discussion of The Youth Hostel Murders, which I read some months ago. But in one of those ‘man-proposes-God disposes’ moments, I came down with a flu like illness which prevented my attendance at the discussion this past Tuesday.

Well, darn it anyway….

Still, I’d like to say a few words about the book, which was originally published in 1952.  The youth hostel of the title is located in the Cumberland fells, in the far north of England. The chief protagonist is Abercrombie Lewker, a professional actor and manager who moonlights as an amateur but gifted sleuth. His wife Georgie – Georgina -does her best to keep her husband’s flights of fancy from becoming overly extravagant.

The countryside of this setting is mountainous and wild, sparsely populated by humans but nicely populated by sheep. In fact a shepherd, Ben Truby, figures prominently in this narrative. We first encounter him as he emerges from the shadows surrounding a fireplace “like a troll emerging from a cave.”

He was a tall old man with scanty gray locks and very long and muscular arms. His gaunt body, bent like a question mark but still suggestive of great strength, was clad in an old velveteen coat with tails, much patched tweed breeches, and huge nailed boots. His face was weather-browned and bony, and the inordinate length of his bristly jaw gave him a horse-faced appearance which instantly reminded Georgie of William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth? Really? Still, it’s a compelling description, one of several found in this novel.

What did I like about The Youth Hostel Murders? The atmospherics, for one thing: the danger and eeriness of the fells. And Carr  throws in a soupçon of witchcraft for good measure.The text is replete with quotes from Shakespeare. I particularly liked “hell’s black intelligencer,” as Queen Margaret venomously terms Richard III in the eponymous history play.

Abercrombie Lewker is usually referred to as the “actor-manager” rather than just an actor. as though the additional designation would confer more status. He “booms” as opposed to merely speaking. He’s an avid climber, although he doesn’t seem cut out for this rugged sport. Pauline wrote me that she found him an “extremely annoying” character, and if you’ve ever spent time with someone who declaims rather than simply talking, you’ll know what she means. Georgie’s nickname for her scenery-chewing husband  is “Filthy,” and Pauline found this likewise irritating. (So did I.) Marge, for her part, was put off by Carr’s prose style. I gather that for the rest of the Suspects, the verdict on the novel was generally positive, albeit with some reservations.

(The nickname “Filthy” put me in mind of Jane Gardam’s trio of novels about a character called “Old Filth.” He’s actually Edward Feathers QC, and the sobriquet is an acronym of ‘Failed in London, Try Hong Kong.’ Is this a specifically British thing, I wonder? The legal system over there can seem somewhat alien to Yanks – or at least, it does to this Yank. The Gardam novels are worth seeking out, though, especially the first one, Old Filth.)
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Presently, The Youth Hostel Murders is a publication of the good people at Rue Morgue Press. Theirs is an extremely admirable initiative, aimed at bringing neglected classics and other unjustly ignored older titles back into print. Some of the authors currently on their list are Gladys Mitchell, Catherine Aird, John Dickson Carr, and Craig Rice. Click here for the complete list.

Glyn Carr, by the way, is a pseudonym for Showell Styles, a remarkably prolific writer of whom I ‘d not previously heard.
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I’m next up for the Suspects, and I’ve just started rereading my selection, Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio. I’m always a bit uneasy at this preliminary stage; I’ve had the experience of picking up a book group title that I’ve committed to but not actually read for some time, only to find myself wondering why I ever made that particular choice. That’s not happening with this book. I’m enjoying it all over again and I hope that my fellow Suspects feel the same.

And those of you who were in attendance Tuesday night, please feel free to comment on this post and/or correct any errors.

 

2 Comments

  1. Carol said,

    Hi Roberta,

    We missed you at the meeting and I’m glad you’re feeling better.

    There were more varied opinions about this book than there are about most of our choices which, I think made for an excellent discussion.

    Since you mention some of the negative views, I will point out some of the positive aspects. Let me first defend Mr. Carr’s choice of name for his main character. . As a person formed by his service in the Special Commando Branch of British Intelligence during World War 2, and experiences as a naval officer, mountain climber and leader of various expeditions, the author probably saw “Filthy Lewker’ as a very mild “punny” name for a character.No doubt there were many others that came to his mind that would be thought even less appropriate by us gently-reared middle aged ladies.:0)

    Humor is very tricky. Someone may find a book hilarious while another might think it is corny or dull or even offensive. Another might miss the humor completely! This book (and the name), I think were meant to be mildly humorous, but disagreement is only to be expected.

    The writing style was a bit off-putting. I thought the writing was more similar to British books of the Golden Age, than the 50’s and 60’s when the author wrote – structured as a puzzle mystery, with lots of times and schedules involved. Class distinctions were very clearly defined, with some working class characters almost caricatured,(this,of course, might have been at least partly a deliberate attempt to lead the reader away from the killer) Dialogue was stilted and unnatural and some of the characters, especially the women, were stereotyped. If one reads the book quickly, these negatives may overwhelm the more positive parts of the book in the reader’s mind.

    However, as you say, many of the descriptions were very well done. The second paragraph at the top of page 119, beginning with “The wreaths of mist had swollen and spread even in the short time they had been talking…” is lovely and transports the reader to the scene. The mental picture of the characters “reach(ing) the Hostel through a belt of mist that came up to their waists” is one that stays with me. Other members cited similar quotes.

    The descriptions of the climbing was very well done and showed us some of the author’s expertise and love for the mountains and climbing. This is a culture that is as unfamiliar to the group members as some of the countries we have “visited” this year.

    Under his real name of Showell Styles, the author published about 170 books, mostly about climbing and trekking, guides to his beloved Wales, stories based on his naval experiences, a long series of naval historical fiction, even books for young people. Some of these are still in print. So I certainly won’t dismiss him because of a bad pun! :0)

    (I’m not completely pleased with this comment, but need to get out of my pajamas and get on with my day. Can’t let myself tweak and re-write all day!!) :0)

  2. JJ said,

    To my shame, I’ve been meaning to get to Glyn Carr fo about, oh, three years now and never quite manage it. Whether this is because I’m not completely sure what I’m going to get, or just because I accrue new books and authors at a rate far greater than any mere human can read, your comments here have strengthened my resolve to read at least one book by him in the first part of 2016. Here’s hoping I actually manage it this time…

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