Friday, 30 January 2015

Snow Day: The Slype by Russell Thorndike


published 1927

Snow The Slype


About this time somebody started the silly rumour that the bodies of the missing parsons might be discovered in the great snow-heap at the corners of the Precincts. Heaps that Potter had piled up after the disappearance of the parsons. The curious and the morbid immediately attacked these tidy heaps with feet, umbrellas and walking sticks, and Potter was left to straighten them up when they were abandoned….

Snow, snow. Thick, white, silent and heavy. Not a sound in the Precincts but the rumble of the organ and the distant singing in the Cathedral, where Canon Cable is worrying his way through Evensong. Trillet is giving them no festival service tonight. He knew there would be no congregation. The weather is too bad even for the Precincts folk to venture forth. It is the first time that Potter has ever given up clearing paths. He had deliberately downed tools in the face of such snow.
 
observations: We have already had this book for a post-Christmas afternoon-on-the-sofa read: but it is also good for a snowday, which in the UK tends to be after Christmas, and is happening now in some places.

Sinister snow is a big feature of this book, and possibly my favourite line in the book comes when a bit of amateur detecting is going on, and the policeman, Macauley says:
‘Splendid! Recent footprints in the snow, of course?’
Such an archetypal Golden Age sentence – you know where you are with a book that contains that line. Along with: ‘To add to the general terror several persons reported the alarm of having heard ghastly shrieks from the Slype, each end of which was now guarded by special police.’
Russell Thorndike – best known for his Dr Syn books, and the brother of the actress Sybil Thorndike – certainly had a sense of humour, and the book is nicely funny when it is not being sinister and scarey. I particularly liked the Cathedral verger, Mr Styles, who falls over a kneeling worshipper and gets very annoyed:
‘Once let ‘em start this kneeling-about business out of service hours, and where will it lead ‘em? I knows. Independent bits of prayers all over the Nave, and they won’t be satisfied then till you’ll find ‘em flopping down higgeldy-piggeldy all over the Chancel.’
Thorndike creates many excellent characters in the book: Boyce’s Boy is a masterpiece.

More great snow books on the blog: The excellently-named Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence; Agatha Christie’s Sittaford Mystery - snowed in on Dartmoor and splendid snow clues; and the blank canvas in Harriet Lane’s sinister Alys, Always, while the heroine is making your blood run cold.

The picture is Cathedral in Winter by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, and is from the Athenaeum website.








14 comments:

  1. Not for me Moira, but I do wish I had gone with his Dr Syn book this month.
    I ought to try and dig up some snow books of my own - SNOWBOUND by Bill Pronzini lurks in a tub not far away!

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    1. Yes, you should go for a themed post, before the snow disappears. And maybe read Dr Syn one day - I think I read a Syn book many many years ago, but I can't remember anything about it.

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    2. Disappears? We had a half-hour flurry last evening and that's it, not that I'm complaining at all. Snow? Bah Humbug!

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    3. We've not got that much here either, I'm secretly disappointed, I love a snow day and the excuse to do nothing...

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  2. Moira - Those are definitely classic crime fiction lines! I love it! And that comment about praying out of hours is priceless. There is really something about a heavy snowfall that just lends itself beautifully to a good crime novel. It just adds such a good context I think. That's why there are just so many snow-related crime novels out there.

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    1. There's something very enthralling about it isn't there, the hidden footprints, the opportunities for hiding something. I'll always be in the market for a snow crime novel....

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  3. Some things are meant to be . .. I actually got this book out of the London Library on your recommendation, Moira, and we now have plenty of snow (far too much in fact), so this is the ideal time to read it.

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    1. Oh that was so meant to be! I hope you have a nice sofa and a few hours to enjoy it.

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  4. Moira, I love reading humour in dialogue, especially when the author drops a funny line or two when you least expect it. It often livens up what might otherwise be an average book, though not in this case, of course.

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    1. Indeed, and I think there's always room for jokes, even in a serious book, and I wish all authors included them.

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  5. Moira: What is a snow day in England? Unless it is a raging blizzard everyone is expected to be in school and at work in Saskatchewan. On Tuesday evening we had about 13 cm of snow. No one was even late for work.

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    1. You are so right Bill - in the UK people give up at the first flurry of snow. I think that because it is so infrequent, people grab the moment. There used to be a feel that you had to try your best to get in to work/school etc, but in all honesty I think that feeling has quite gone! But what we consider as a heavey fall probably wouldn't even register with you....

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  6. I love the description of snow in that extract. When I was in Alabama, I saw some decent snow occasionally, and when I was in school we had one day with 10 inches of snow and of course it was a snow day, because it was so unusual. I think they get worse weather there now in the winter. But here in Southern California, no weather to speak of at all. The worst we ever had was a winter of rain every day forever ... the year I was pregnant with my son.

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    1. You really notice extremes of weather when you're pregnant, don't you? there was a very hot summer when I was having my daughter, and my mother said it had been exactly the same when she was pregnant with me....

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