Lots of places in the Northern Hemisphere are having snow and very cold temperatures right now. For many people, that means staying inside and warm, perhaps with a good book and an inviting fireplace. But for plenty of people, winter means skiing, ice skating, and other winter sports. In fact, there are lots of wonderful tourist destinations that cater to winter sports fans. But even if you stay close to home, winter doesn’t always mean staying in your home.
Sports like skating and skiing can bring people together. They also often competition and, sometimes, conflict. Those sports can add character dimension, too. So it’s no wonder we see them in crime fiction.
Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski begins as a group of people make their way to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, for a skiing holiday. Among them are Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy. Tibbett’s there in part on official business, but he and Emmy are also hoping to take some time to enjoy the Alps. Everyone gathers at the Bella Vista Hotel, where they settle in. There’s already a bit of underlying tension, but it boils to the surface when one of the hotel guests is murdered on the ski lift. Then there’s another death. Tibbett works with the local police, in the form of Capitano Spezzi, to find out what connects the two deaths. As they investigate, they find that several people at the hotel are hiding things that are safer left undiscovered.
Much of Emma Lathen’s Going For the Gold takes place during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Sloan Guaranty Trust has been chosen to provide banking services to the athletes and attendees, and the Sloan’s vice president, John Putnam Thatcher, has gone to Lake Placid to oversee and provide support to the local bank branches. Shortly after the games begin, a member of the French ski jumping team is shot. The police investigation finds that he may have been involved in a counterfeiting operation. Then, one of the Swiss slalom skiers is drugged and nearly killed. It all turns out to be related to fraud and theft, perfectly timed to be unnoticeable amid the millions of transactions that take place when large crowds of people gather.
Skiing is an important part of Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets. In the novel, a group of young people have come to Trafalgar, British Columbia, for a post-Christmas skiing holiday. One night, the SUV they’ve rented skids on an icy patch and plunges into the Upper Kootenay River. Trafalgar Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith is first to the scene and investigates what’s happened. The driver, Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth, died of injuries related to the incident. But his passenger, Ewan Williams, was already dead. Now the case is much more complicated. Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, investigate more closely to find out whether Williams was murdered and, if so, by whom. Skiing plays a role in the novel, and, without spoiling the story, I can say that there’s a suspenseful ski chase towards the end. That’s not surprising, since Trafalgar is a skiing mecca.
Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace takes place during and just after Christmas. It’s traditional in the small Québec town of Three Pines to hold a curling match on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Everyone’s excited for it, and the locals gather to watch the event. It starts off well enough, but then, tragedy strikes. C.C. de Poitiers, who’s recently moved to town with her family, is electrocuted. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team investigate, and they find no lack of suspects. The victim was a self-help guru whose personal life was quite different to the public persona she cultivated. What’s more, she’d succeeded in making enemies of just about everyone in town. So there’s no lack of suspects. Curling isn’t the reason for the murder, but it forms an interesting social backdrop for it, and gives an interesting look at the sport.
Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall introduces Toronto attorney Nancy Parish. When popular radio host Kevin Bruce is arrested for the murder of his common-law wife, he asks Parish to defend him. It won’t be easy. For one thing, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence against him, including the fact that he admitted the murder to a witness. For another, he hasn’t spoken since his arrest. In fact, he communicates with Parish through notes he passes to her. Still, her job is defend him to the best of her ability, and that is what she sets out to do. The case turns out to be more complicated then it seems, and there’s a lot of character history involved. But in the end, Parish finds out what really happened. Parish is a skilled hockey player who’s played the game for years. Her hockey skills don’t solve the case, but they do provide what she calls ‘hockey therapy,’ and they add an interesting dimension to her character. And hockey is woven throughout the novel, as the Toronto Maple Leafs go from being a struggling team to winning the Stanley Cup. Everyone’s cheering for the home team, and hockey details are a major topic of conversation.
And that’s how winter sports are. Sports like hockey, skating, skiing, and curling can get people excited. They’re enough to draw a lot of people outside, even in very cold weather. And you never know what can happen at a sports gathering, whether it’s a hockey game or an après-ski at a winter lodge…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stompin’ Tom Connors’ The Hockey Song.
12 thoughts on “Where Players Dash With Skates Aflash*”
As every Canadian considers him/herself an expert on winter I feel well qualified to comment on this post. This evening, on my deck, the snow is over a metre thick and we do not expect a temperature above 0C for a few weeks.
It is no surprise your examples draw on Canadian crime fiction. It would be implausible for any Canadian series not to have winter themed stories. Two of my favourite authors, Gail Bowen and Anthony Bidulka, have several books set in winter.
The series I thought of most directly features Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak. The two books by Scott Young involve the Inuit Matteesie, an RCMP Inspector, in adventures taking place during winters north of the Arctic Circle. In the books he uses traditional and modern means of transportation. In the first he embarks on an investigation traveling by dogsled. In the second set on the coast of the Arctic Ocean he uses a snowmobile. I acknowledge neither method was used for recreation in the books. I will state that Matteesie, as with many Canadians, does enjoy both means of travel.
I was hoping you’d respond, Bill. And thanks for sharing your current snow conditions. To be perfectly honest, I miss show. I’ll admit I’ve never lived where it routinely got as deep as it is right now where you are, but I miss it.
I like Anthony Bidulka’s and Gail Bowen’s books, too, and you’re right; they depict what life is like during a Saskatchewan winter. I’m very glad that you added Scott Young’s novels to this post. You’re absolutely right that Mateesie uses sleds to get where he’s going at times. He’s very well adapted to getting around in winter, and I think you’re right; he enjoys it. He’s certainly accustomed to it!
Hi Margot, Just finished Past Tense, which I enjoyed. I did think that dastardly retiredprofessor was the culprit and I thought sexual harassment or abuse was thecrime he committed. He just seemed like the bad guy from the start, asmarmy character. I enjoyed the book, as I needed a relaxing read without a lot of violence.There’s enough going on in this country right now, so calmness anda modicum of violence was appreciated. And I liked the fact thatJoel has a dog, a nice touch.
Oh, what is happening here, played out in Congress? And notresolved. Time to keep reading mysteries or other novels.
Thanks for stopping by, Kathy. And thanks for the kind words about Past Tense. I’m so very glad you enjoyed the novel. That means a lot to me. As for the dog, well, I always like it when protagonists have pets. It makes them more fleshed out as characters. And yes, with everything going on now, it’s nice to have books as an escape..
Brrrrrr!!! I must admit our half-inch of snow looks a bit pathetic in comparison to the several feet of the stuff that seems to be falling in parts of the US, though. But Tommy and I are totally agreed it’s a great excuse to stay in and curl up with a good book. I’ll add Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac, aka my new old friend ECR Lorac. A group of bright young things go off for a ski-ing holiday, but a couple of last minute replacements mean they don’t all know each other very well. Meantime back in snowy London a body has been found, and in the snow nearby is the distinctive mark of a ski stick…
Snowy days and evenings are exactly the right time to curl up with a good book, FictionFan! Whether it’s a half-inch or several feet, it’s the kind of weather that invites a person to admire it from inside… Thanks for mentioning Crossed Skis. Lorac tells such a good story, and this is a good example. I love the premise, too, I think. I like that setup where a group of people gets together, but they don’t all know each other, and anything could happen.
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I have read all of Emma Lathen’s John Putnam Thatcher books and all of Moyes Henry Tibbett books and half of the Inspector Gamache series, but I haven’t gotten far with Vicki Delany’s series. I will be reading Valley of the Lost this year, and then I can look around for a copy of Winter of Secrets. I do like books set in cold and snow. I will also look into the Robert Rotenberg books, I haven’t tried his writing at all and you know how I like books set in Canada. Interesting that three of these authors are Canadian, but they do have a lot of experience with snow and ice.
And I see that Bill has made some other Canadian suggestions.
I’m really glad Bill commented with those suggestions, Tracy. There is some excellent Canadian crime fiction out there, and it’s good to have a resource for some ideas. I hope you’ll enjoy more of Vicki Delany’s Molly Smith series. It’s well written, in my opinion, and with some nicely developed characters. And I do recommend Robert Rotenberg, too. His work gives an interesting insight into the world of Canadian law without being too filled with small details about it. And I do like the Nancy Parish character; she’s a strong female character without being a ‘superhero’ (I get tired of those, to be honest). And the books are authentically Canadian. I think you’d like them.
This is all I’m gonna think about when my husband drags me to the ice fishing tournament this year. Haha. Thanks, Margot!
Glad to have inspired you, Sue! 😉 You can use that ice fishing context to come up with a deliciously diabolical crime story, you know… 😉
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I think when I read some books set in cold climates, I always feel the need to put an extra layer of clothes on! Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia…
I know what you mean, Col! A well-written book about winter sports can definitely want to make you put on warmer socks and a few more layers!