Monday, September 12, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: Tirol

I hear yodeling, I smell amazing chocolate and baked goods, and I see mountains. They must be the snow covered, jagged peaks of the Austrian Alps. We have arrived in Austria - more specifically the state of Tirol, home of the grandest of the Austrian Alps. Hope you've brought along your ice axe, a warm anorak, sturdy rope and your crampons. We are in for some challenging and deadly mountain climbing in the pages of Lewker in Tirol by Glyn Carr.

When Abercombie Lewker's beloved vintage auto suffers an accident at the hands of a reckless lorry driver he takes "the Dowager" in for hopeful repairs. The mechanic gives him bad news. She's a goner. Then the mechanic, Ted Pirner, starts talking of his hobby as a mountaineering guide. He's looking forward to a trip to Austria, to be exact his parents' home province of South Tirol. Lewker becomes nostalgic for his more active globetrotting days and his own mountain climbing adventures, most of which included some unfortunate murders and some amateur sleuthing. A discussion with Georgie, his wife, and a fellow thespian in his acting troupe decides him to make one last climb. And so he heads off to climb the Zuckerhütl in the Stubai Alps of southeastern Austrian.

Technically, he begins in Italian territory and will cross over into Austria. For we soon learn of some interesting history about Tirol -- how it was split back in 1915 and the southernmost portion annexed to Italy. At the end of WW2 the Austrians were hoping that it would be returned to them, but somehow it was utterly overlooked at the treaty talks, though Italy and Austria worked out an arrangement to recognize the rights of the German speaking population that remained in South Tirol. But a rivalry bordering on hatred still exists at the time of the novel's action and there are signs of dangerous activism intermingled with terrorism.

Zuckerhütl, 3,505 metres (11,499 feet) The highest peak of the Stubai Alps

The Junge Adler (Young Eagles), a German speaking activist group who oppose the still valid annexation of South Tirol to Italy, are becoming violent. Bombs have been set off in the mountains, shootings have taken place at mountaineering parties. All of this in order that attention be drawn to the Junge Adler's cause of returning South Tirol to Austria. Lewker is warned of this activity prior to his setting foot on his tour. His guide, Josef Herkomer, was the most recent victim of these attacks. Josef assures Lewker he will be safe. He cannot imagine another attack would take place so soon. Little do they know.

The mountain climbing sections are intricately described. The climate, the terrain, the history are all neatly woven into the action sequences. We also get the inside dope on a rivalry that exists between Josef and Mario Papi, an Italian guide who happens to be in love with Josef's daughter. This can only mean trouble in a crime novel. When another shooting occurs and one of the guides is wounded in the mountains we know that perhaps there is something a little more than terrorist activity going on in the Alps. Lewker does a fine job of sorting out just who is trying to do in whom. When the expected fatality does occur he offers his assistance to the local police and gets to the bottom of the criminal activity.

Showell Styles, AKA Glyn Carr
"Glyn Carr" is in reality writer Frank Showell Styles, an avid mountaineer himself. Under his own name he has written several non-fiction books on the sport, two series of nautical adventure fiction, and a few espionage thrillers that sometimes incorporate mountain climbing in the plot. In his guise as "Glyn Carr" (a clever pun in Welsh) he created Shakespearean actor, mountaineer and amateur detective Abercrombie Lewker, or "Filthy" as his friends and wife call him. While most of Lewker's adventures are confined to his homeland of Wales he has traveled to Norway, Switzerland, France, Majorca, and even Nepal in his pursuit of his favorite sport and avocation of crime solving.

Several of the Glyn Carr books have been reissued by Rue Morgue Press and are marked with an asterisk in the bibliography at the end of this article. Lewker in Tirol is, however, not one of the reissued titles.

And what's a visit to Austria without some local music? Here are Die Mayrhofner singing about the Zillertal, their home, which is not actually featured in Carr's book but it's in the same Bundesland of Tirol.

For other visits to Austria and more criminal depictions in its gorgeous surroundings be sure to visit Mysteries in Paradise, our host blog for this whirlwind trip through Europe.

The Abercrombie Lewker detective novels

*Death on Milestone Buttress (1951)
*Murder on the Matterhorn (1951)
*The Youth Hostel Murders (1952)
The Corpse in the Crevasse (1952)
*Death under Snowdon (1954)
A Corpse at Camp Two (1955)
Murder of an Owl (1956)
Swing Away, Climber (1956)
The Ice Axe Murders (1958)
Holiday with Murder (1960)
*Death Finds a Foothold (1961)
Lewker in Norway (1963)
Death of a Weirdy (1965)
Lewker in Tirol (1967)
Fat Man's Agony (1969)


  1. John: I enjoyed the review and information on the author. Did you enjoy the book? I was not sure from the review.

  2. I snatched up every reissue of this series that the Rue Morgue Press put out and hopefully more will follow suit, as the prices on the secondhand book market are just insane. A copy of Fat Man's Agony is offered at the tune of nearly 700 bucks!

    Do you own all the books in this series, John?

  3. Thanks for this impressive contribution John

  4. After the Fine Weather by Michael Gilbert is snother crimenovel dealing with South Tyrol.

  5. Bill-

    This is one of the better Lewker books. I found the info on South Tirol to be the most fascinating part of the book. My knowledge of world history is considerably lacking and anything that adds to it I lap up. Seemed pretty timely too considering all that's going on in our world these days. Some of the earlier Lewker books have way too much "fluff" in them. For instance, Lewker in the very first book has an irritating habit of sprinkling his everyday speech with Shakespeare quotes. It got to be irritating. He still does it in this book, but it's more tolerable and restrained than in the first couple of books. I liked The Youth Hostel Murders the best so far because it included two of my favorite topics in crime fiction: supernatural legends and folklore, and art theft. I highly recommend that one. Plus, it's one of the easy to obtain Rue Morgue reprints.

    TomCat -

    I have eight of the books. Two are 1st US editions w/ DJ, one an ex-lib US edition, 3 are UK editions w/ DJ and the last two are Rue Morgue reprints. Murder of an Owl and Corpse at Camp Two are the most difficult to find and ridiculously priced because of their scarcity.

  6. I think I'd enjoy Glyn Carr, but I haven't stumbled over any of the books. I'll have to order from the Rue Morgue Press someday, but for now, I have enough books to keep me busy for about five minutes or so.

  7. I'm adding one of these to the list for Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge next year. I think it was the leather pants and the huge belt that pushed me over the edge (so to speak).

  8. I wanted to post a video of some yodelers but they went on too long. And I'm a sucker for accordion music and German lyrics. Isn't everyone? Plus that scenery is just so Sound of Music gorgeous. I kept expecting Julie Andrews to show up in a dirndl and spin around ecstatically.