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.