Frank Showell Styles (1908-2005) was a multi-talented writer and expert mountain climber. He published a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including children’s books, books on mountains, historical adventure, humorous articles, and mysteries, more than 160 books in all. Most of the detective fiction used the pseudonym Glyn Carr.
Carr wrote 18 mysteries with Abercrombie Lewker, stage actor/manager, serving as the gifted amateur detective. Each story takes place near a mountain or mountain range and the location is a prominent part of the story. In The Youth Hostel Murders (Geoffrey Bles, 1952) Abercrombie Lewker and his wife Georgina are traveling in the northwest corner of England in Cumberland after the completion of a successful three-month run of Richard III with Lewker in the title role. They have been invited to stay with the Deputy Chief Constable but stop on their way to the DCC’s farm to investigate the village pub’s wares.
There they hear about a young climber who fell off a nearby mountain three months earlier and was killed. The ancient local shepherd is holding forth about the accident when a couple of students from the nearby hostel arrive, seeking help to look for another student who has been missing for nearly two days. Gay Johnson had gone off alone on a solitary ramble among the hills and her friends were not overly concerned that she had not returned the previous night, thinking she had stayed at another nearby hostel. But when she didn’t appear by the afternoon of the second day, and inquiries revealed she had not stayed at the second hostel, the group became alarmed and set out to find her.
Abercrombie volunteered to join the search party and he in fact found Gay’s body, apparently another victim of a climbing accident. He is puzzled about the lack of trauma to the body, expecting to find a good deal of damage after a plunge down a craggy mountainside. Instead, there’s only a significant cranial injury. His concern grows when he learns that the student who fell to his death three months earlier was found in the same condition. The local police are uneasy as well. Abercrombie climbs the mountain from which they were believed to have fallen and leaves with more questions than answers.
Styles has created a locked room mystery in the open air, as the introduction to the Rue Morgue reprints say; its investigation and resolution make entertaining reading. The descriptions of the mountains and the landscape are striking. They are worth reading for themselves alone. I didn’t need to be told that the author loved the outdoors.
The original editions of the Abercrombie series are too expensive for the casual reader to obtain but the late lamented Rue Morgue Press reprinted a number of the earlier titles and they seem widely available in used book outlets. The later titles have not been so fortunate. A lonely copy of Fat Man’s Agony, last book in the series, is available on abebooks.com for $535. No copies on eBay or on ThriftBooks, my go-to for used books. Perhaps some kind GAD publisher will see his way to reprinting them. They would have an appreciative audience!