Where Players Dash With Skates Aflash*

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.