Thursday, 2 January 2014

Xmas snowman: Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence

published 1944









In less than ten minutes Mark found himself prancing through the snow with two small girls… They liked Mark and he liked them. It was good to feel their icy little mittens tucking in his hand…

There were old brooms and shovels littering the ground and several wrecks of snowmen standing about; headless dwarfs, no taller than their waddling creator. Mark made derisive comments and offered to build another. When he produced straws from one of the brooms and told Ivy they were eyelashes, he reached the stature of a god. Anne left her snowballing and joined them…

“I’m going to find some bits of coal for buttons. We saw one in Bear River with buttons.”…

Laura Morey was running toward them, hatless and without a coat. Her dull red dress was like a stain on the winter landscape. She must have fallen, for it was caked with snow.



observations: Recently the blog has featured Charles Palliser’s Rustication as an ideal post-Xmas read, along with my choice for the Guardian newspaper’s comfort read series – Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate (which is not particularly seasonal but has an appropriate title). Blood Upon the Snow is another such – best read on the sofa on a cold afternoon with the curtains drawn. Lawrence wrote just a handful of books: her most famous was the very creepy Death of a Doll. This one also has as an excellent tense atmosphere: a young PI, Mark from the extract above, comes out from New York to act as secretary/bodyguard to an elderly man living in a large remote house with an assortment of other people. The snow falls, and Christmas is near – though, as with so many crime books set around Xmas, the festivities don’t intrude. There are deaths and disappearances, and the dynamics (‘shifting allegiances and masked intentions’ according to the blurb) of the people in the house are very hard to work out.

And that’s true even when you have the solution. This is a highly enjoyable book, and as a detective story fan I am always willing to suspend my belief for a good narrative – but I would defy any reader to have worked out any part of the plot that is finally revealed. Lawrence creates a splendid atmosphere of tension, some great characters, and a supremely exciting climax, involving the entire cast - those who have survived, that is - in the library, the snow outside the French windows, and a mysterious light, followed by attacks and chases. The subsequent ten pages of explanation – well it IS a good plot, but there has really been a complete lack of any clues and setup. But still, I enjoyed the book, it was amusing and entertaining and had some very nice touches. And the snowman was great.

The black and white photo is from the Center for Jewish History in New York.


'Something dramatic coming in through the French windows' also happens in Gladys Mitchell's Watson's Choice, a recent entry



Sergio, over at Tipping My Fedora, reminded me of this book  - he showed this cover, which looks like the Ladybird/Enid Blyton Big Book of Snow Games rather than a murder story.






My copy has this one - better.











Designers were plainly torn whether to include the snowman or not: with snowman it looks a bit jaunty, but without one it looks tense but generic:





8 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, I remember Sergio's mention of this book. Thanks for the reminder of it. It certainly sounds like one of those books you read when you're feeling safe and warm... I do like atmospheric books like that, and the snowman just adds to the setting. :-)

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    1. Yes - atmosphere and snowman more than made up for any shortcomings in plot!

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  2. I will add this one to my "wish list" as it sounds really good. If I do allow myself a book treat at some point, undoubtedly I will have forgotten about this by then! Some great covers though.

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    1. It's the kind of book with a lot of old editions in paperbacks, so you might be able to pick one up cheaply. (Then that doesn't count for the embargo, right?)

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  3. I have not heard of this author (or forgotten, if I did). Regardless of the quality of the story, I will have to find a copy with one of those cool covers. I am cutting back on backing books this year (really), but that doesn't count vintage books with cool covers, which are food for the soul.

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    1. Absolutely! You NEED one of those. And as I say above, you should be able to pick one up cheaply....

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  4. Terrific post Moira - and I really must re-read this one! Happy New Year (belatedly).

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    1. Thanks, and a Happy New Year to you too - I was so glad you reminded me of this one, and I'll look forward to a re-read review from you.

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