This is a difficult book to describe. There’s an avalanche, a slobbery dog, maybe a ghost, maybe an alien, maybe a spy, probably some mafia, and definitely a world weary cop. Also, it’s really funny and a cracking good mystery.
Inspector Glebsky escapes his bureaucratic day job to a holiday in remote ski chalet, somewhere in the Russian mountains, in search of a much needed vacation. His plans include skiing, letting someone else cook for him, drinking good alcohol, and sleeping. At the resort, he meets an odd assortment of people, including the current innkeeper who keeps a room at the ready for the ghost of a mountain climber.
Soon after his arrival, a guest misses his watch, strange notes appear on doors, and Glebsky smells traces of pipe smoke in the ghost’s room. Each character piques his interest as they act increasingly strange. Yet, he tries to remain in holiday mode, and ignore their odd behavior. However, when an avalanche traps the guests in their hillside, and a guest is found dead, Glebsky must act as a detective and solve the locked-room puzzle.
It was a particularly sticky situation. None of the strands led anywhere. First, there wasn’t a single suspect. Second, I had absolutely no idea how the crime was committed. I didn’t understand the most important thing. Forget about the killer – how had it been done? How? An open window, but no traces on the sill, no footprints in the snow on the ledge. ~Pg. 153
Written in 1970 in the Soviet Union, the humor is surprising to this Western reader. One assumes the strict censorship of literature would have found the novel too frivolous, and not entirely complementary of government officials. But it was apparently very popular in its time. I am very glad it has been translated for English readers.
With a bit of Agatha Christie, Twilight Zone, and Noises Off, it’s great balance of adventure, sci-fi mystery and humor.
I read my own purchased copy of this book. I did not receive anything from the publisher.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Melville House (March 17, 2015)