Jeff went to the closet and returned struggling into his coat…Rogan emerged with his coat.
The snow has advantages. It shows marks. If there are tracks on the roof there must be more on the ground. …If people would wait until the evidence was all in, there’d be fewer ghost stories.
Near the front of the house his light picked up the main path from the lodge as it curved to meet the steps at the side of the porch.
Lights appeared over the brow of the hill. Madore’s eyes darted to them in superstitious terror. Rogan took advantage of this to step in, catch his wrist and twist it behind him until he dropped the knife. Rogan thrust the pistol into his coat and shouted.
Six heads showed over the hill above. A flashlight picked out Madore and then swung to Rogan…
The low bulk of the lodge sprawled on the crest of the ridge, its blind lightless windows staring down at them.
observations: I’ve been waiting for more snow locally, thinking I might run this blogpost on a snowday, but I’ve given up hope – the weather is positively spring-like. Which is a good thing.
I had never heard of Rim of the Pit until comparatively recently: but then I read that it had been voted the second best locked-room mystery of all time, after John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man. I’m a big fan of Carr and his impossible crimes, so I thought I’d better get hold of this one. Apparently the author was a well-known magician who produced just a couple of crime stories, of which this is the best.
A disparate group of people have gathered in a remote spot in New England – there’s a cabin and a lodge, some solid and sinister forest, and a lot of snow. There is a complex plot involving the lumber business, and rather too many characters. A séance is held to get a dead man’s permission for a (lumber) business deal, and things start to look up – there’s nothing like a séance for improving the mood. The usual mixture of fraud and possible reality ensue: could the dead man really have come back to interfere with the living? Has he taken possession of his wife’s new husband? Impossibility is piled on impossibility – there are endless searches in the snow (the sections above have been spliced together from different pages of the book) and a lot of footprints, and missing footprints, and inexplicable footprints. Recently, quoting from Russell Thorndike’s The Slype, I said this:
‘Splendid! Recent footprints in the snow, of course?’ Such an archetypal Golden Age sentence…I liked the book, and it gets a lot of credit for being short and to the point. I guessed some of what was going on – and it was very clear to me who must be the main culprit. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable: and also, guessing is helped by my having read so many similar stories, written since this one – I imagine Rim of the Pit was very influential.
You would definitely think the author must have been a really good conjuror or magician – he really knew his tricks. As a writer, not so much. I think the book could have done with a good edit - I had to read the opening page about six times because I couldn’t work out who was speaking to whom, or where they were, or why, or whom the dog belonged to. But I’m glad I persevered, and the atmosphere of the snow-bound lodges was very well done. And it is a real pity he didn’t write some more.
For séances and snow, click on the labels below.
The picture of a snowshoeing trip is from the Provincial Archives of Alberta.