Saturday, May 31, 2014

Footprints in the Snow by Maurice Leblanc

One set of footprints leads to the scene of a disturbance, and a different set leads away. With the victim missing, where is the body? And how did the assailant traverse over fields of snow without leaving any footprints?

The penultimate story of Leblanc's "Eight Strikes of the Clock" collection, Footprints in the Snow is an intriguing mystery featuring a number of unexplained events. The crux of the case relies on the tracks (or lack thereof) left in the snow surrounding the isolated scene.

Le Clos Lupin - Leblanc's home is now a museum dedicated
to his most famous character. Source: Cultural Etretat

The local police are quick to form an explanation for the events, but when witness testimony contradicts their theory it is up to Prince Renine to once again uncover the truth.

Footprints in the Snow

The short story is available in its entirety for free at Project Gutenberg or WikiSource. If you want to read on your Kindle you can download it here (send to Kindle instructions here).

Author: Maurice Leblanc
Date: 1922
Word Count: 9,000 (about 36 pages)


Footprints have long been a favourite trope of impossible crime authors. Leblanc's story fits within the classic mould - the prints in the snow surrounding the scene do not match the perceived series of events. While Leblanc does create a logical and (mostly) believable solution, the method used to deceive the investigators is a little tired.

Source: Flikr (Adreil)
The story balances a number of characters and creates a compelling mystery. It could be argued that it does over-complicate the situation at times, primarily by introducing us to extraneous characters who are not critical to the story. This being said, it progresses at a decent pace and wastes little time walking us through the details of the case.

The motives of some of those involved, as with many of Leblanc's stories, are somewhat forced, but do not detract from the mystery itself. Even when the majority of events have been explained the reader is still left unsure of how they happened, which is saved until the very end. Renine is as compelling as ever, and manages to piece together the clues in a satisfying if simplistic conclusion.

7/10 - A curious series of events, with a solution that is elegant but lacking a little inventiveness. 

Footprints in the Snow is available as part of The Eight Strokes of the Clock short story collection from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US).

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