Friday, 8 February 2013

Forgotten Book - Sinister Crag

Newton Gayle is a writer I've featured previously in this blog, and today's Forgotten Book is his last, Sinister Crag, which first appeared in 1938. I say "he", but the Gayle name concealed the identities of an American poet, Muna Lee,and a British businessman, Maurice Guiness, who did write three books on his own in the early Sixties.

This novel features the usual Gayle duo, Jim Greer and narrator Robin Upwood, who form a likeable Holmes-Watson type of pairing. What is especially fascinating to me about the story is that it is mostly set in the Lake District, in the fictional valley of Wannerdale. This seemed, as far as I could tell, to be located not far from Thirlmere, but unfortunately there is no map, and it is one of those Golden Age stories where a map would have been very useful, rather than simply an adornment of no great value, as is occasionally the case.

Three men have died in an accident while climbing the eponymous Sinister Crag. But was it really an accident? Greer thinks not, and spends most of the book climbing the fells along with Robin as apprentice mountaineer in order to prove his point. It's clear that one of their fellow guests at the Herdwick Hotel is the culprit, and suspicion is skilfully switched around the possible bad guys.

This book has great strengths. The description of the Lakes is excellent, and there is plenty of information about climbing (though if, like me, you have no interest whatsoever in climbing,you may find it slows the story down a bit). The writing is generally of a much higher standard than is the case with many Golden Age mysteries - perhaps this is due to Lee, who was a poet of distinction. Guinness, no doubt, was the climbing fan and responsible for the plot, and I did feel that there was a lack of fair play. I wasn't especially interested in the victims, and there were some aspects of the solution that bothered me, although there were some neatly handled twists. In essence, Newton Gayle was a much more gifted writer than, say, Christie, but a much less talented plotter of traditional mysteries. What is for sure is that this appealing and atmospheric book does not deserve the almost total neglect it has suffered.


seana graham said...

This sounds quite intriguing, but also very hard to get.

The Passing Tramp said...

Yeah, Muna Lee did the writing.