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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Dead Mountaineer's Inn

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

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To purchase The Dead Mountaineer's Inn

Title: The Dead Mountaineer's Inn
Author: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1970 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 241 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Dead Mountaineer's Inn - US
The Dead Mountaineer's Inn - UK
The Dead Mountaineer's Inn - Canada
The Dead Mountaineer's Inn - India
L'auberge de l'alpiniste mort - France
Hotel zum verunglückten Bergsteiger - Deutschland
  • One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre
  • Russian title: Отель «У Погибшего Альпиниста»
  • Translated by Josh Billings
  • With an Introduction by Jeff VanderMeer
  • A previous translation, Inspector Glebsky's Puzzle, was scheduled for publication (and even assigned an ISBN, 9780931933684) in 1988 but apparently never saw the light of day

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd but entertaining genre-mixed story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
LA Book Review . 22/3/2015 Boris Dralyuk
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/5/2015 Genevieve Valentine
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2017 Michael A. Morrison

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is the Strugatskys at their best, at once silly and dead serious. Yes, The Dead Mountaineerís Inn is a poor whodunit -- because itís far better than that. And whatever else it might be, itís a ripping good yarn, which translator Josh Billings has rendered with great energy and wit. Pour yourself a pitcher of hot port, and prepare to contemplate the unknown." - Boris Dralyuk, Los Angeles Book Review

  • "As translated by Josh Billings, the Strugatsky brothersí rhythms set staccato conversation alongside passages unsettling in their languid cadence; thereís enough dry humor to spark kindling, underlaid with a seeping dread that lingers long after the mystery is solved. (...) (D)elightful and melancholy by turns, and so satisfying to read." - Genevieve Valentine, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Red herrings and MacGuffins abound; parody, absurdism, and surrealism run riot. But the Strugatskys never lose control; they even interweave philosophical themes about identity. Though comparatively inconsequential, The Dead Mountaineerís Inn is as much a tour de force as The Doomed City, and itís great fun to read." - Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are renowned as the Soviet Union's foremost writers of science fiction, but The Dead Mountaineer's Inn appears to be an attempt to do something different. The novel has all the trappings of a very conventional mystery: the narrator, Inspector Peter Glebsky, arrives at the rather out of the way 'The Dead Mountaineer's Inn' where he hopes to holiday for a few weeks. There's an odd assortment of guests, and soon enough one is dead, apparently murdered (but mysteriously so, in his locked room). An avalanche cuts off all connection with civilization -- though fortunately the inn is well-stocked with the necessary creature comforts -- but a stranger, apparently caught in the avalanche when it hit, manages to make it to the inn. Can Glebsky get to the root of the murder and the other mysterious goings-on at the inn -- from disappearing objects and unaccountable presences (perhaps the dead mountaineer still haunts the place ?), to some decidedly stranger things ?
       Glebsky is soon overtaxed, as juggling all the characters and odd occurrences and trying to make some sense of it all keeps him constantly busy. "There goes my vacation", he realizes early on -- and things just get worse from there.
       Glebsky is your standard, by-the-numbers detective -- though he occasionally bristles at having to play the role. He admits he's simply: "an honest police bureaucrat" -- though at one point, apparently fed up, he disavows even this identity:

I was on vacation. And anyway, I'm not a policeman. Who cares how I signed in ... If you want to know, I'm actually a salesman. I sell secondhand sinks. Toilets too ...
       In fact, there's no denying -- or getting away from the fact that -- he is a policeman, but you can see how he might want to play at being something else. Quite a few of the guests certainly seem to be doing that, as questions of identity are fundamental to the story. This is most obvious in the case of the kid Brun, a moody youth of indeterminate sex -- "Was it a boy ? Or, damn it, a girl ?" (This confusion is played to fine comic effect, especially in Glebsky's interactions with the youth, as he tries to fix a sex to Brun.) Of course, confusion like that only helps to further confuse the case -- as does the fact that so many of those present are reluctant to respond straightforwardly to Glebsky's eventually increasingly specific and pointed questions. Evasion, in its many forms, is one of the standard tactics here, undermining Glebsky's efforts at systematic investigation.
       As it turns out, Glebsky isn't so much on the wrong track (though he manages that several times, too) but rather his way of looking at everything is fundamentally flawed. As someone points out to him:
To tell the truth the only thing I feel, Peter, is that you're going about this all wrong. You're following the most natural roads, and for that reason you've ended up in particularly unnatural places. You're exploring alibis, gathering clues, looking for motives. But it seems to me that, in this particular case the usual terms of your art have lost their meaning
       But Glebsky can't do otherwise: no paradigm-shifts for him. He understands that:
any crime can be explained away perfectly logically if you deploy enough fantasy and mystification. But reasonable people don't believe in that kind of logic.
       And he remains, to the end, reasonable -- in part also because the behavior of many of those assembled has, from the start, led him to find that they're hard to take seriously:
They're all jokers here, you know that. Think of it as a joke
       But matters do get quite serious. It's pointed out to him that: "Things are quite more complicated than you think, Inspector", but that's not entirely accurate. There are two possible ways of seeing and explaining events, and Glebsky must choose. Or he could, anyway. But he remains always firmly on the same course he has always chosen -- even as the evidence suggests that maybe that alternative world-view fits the facts better.
       What begins as a simple mystery, with an entertaining variety of hotel guests and what appear to be some pranks and practical jokes, shifts into an entirely different sort of story -- with Glebsky very reluctantly trying maintain his old, familiar perspective. Cold bodies, mysterious appearances and disappearances, a gun with silver bullets, a one-armed stranger, enormous amounts of money, a connection with a notorious criminal gang, a mysterious black box: Glebsky fits the pieces to his narrative, even as they fit less and less well, and even as an alternative is laid out for him. It's a neat internal struggle, superimposed on the mystery -- which builds to a confrontation against outside forces, held at bay, at least for a time, by the avalanche.
       An Epilogue has Glebsky reflect on events some twenty years later. He still frequents the inn (which has changed its name to an even more sensational one, based on the events Glebsky lived through) and recounts what became of some of the guests. And he wonders whether or not he did the right thing, in insisting on seeing things the way he did, and acting accordingly.
       Mystery fans may well be disappointed by the arguably ridiculous resolution to the locked-door murder mystery (and everything else that was then heaped on it) but readers have to be aware that they are reading a Strugatsky novel; they should suspect, from the get-go, what they're in for. The subtitle suggests the novel is One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre; it can be seen as that, but arguably it's also very much an outlier, grounded in the genre but in fact concerned with entirely different issues.
       It's a decidedly odd little novel, no question, and in subverting expectations -- especially those of mass-consumers of detective-fiction -- and conventions doesn't offer the easy satisfactions your run-of-the-mill mystery does. Anything but run-of-the-mill (even as it goes through many of the paces), The Dead Mountaineer's Inn has to be accepted on its own, very different terms; as that, it's an entertaining if bizarre success.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 April 2015

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The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: Reviews: Other books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Arkady Strugatsky (Аркадий Натанович Стругацкий, 1925-1991) and Boris Strugatsky (Борис Натанович Стругацкий, 1931-2012) were leading Soviet science fiction authors.

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© 2015-2018 the complete review

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