The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

The Dead Mountaineer's InnWhat a weird little book. I picked it up largely because of its subtitle, “One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre”, and the fact that it’s a Russian book and hey, that’s totally diverse, and because I was promised amusement by the jacket copy. I’m pretty sure I got that amusement, but this book is so confusing that who knows what I thought about it?

Okay, things I do know. The book is set somewhere cold and snowy, at the Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (yeah, I don’t know why it’s different from the title), which is named for a mountaineer who stayed at the hotel when it was called something else and, you know, died. There’s a little “museum” set up with all of “HIS” stuff, and the owner is pretty sure HE is haunting the hotel. Our protagonist, Inspector Glebsky, is on a ski vacation at the hotel along with a bunch of weird guests, including a famous-ish magician, the magician’s androgynous niece or nephew, a married couple with a strange relationship, a mountaineering physicist of some renown, a tall drink of water who’s pretty great on skis, and a frail little man who possibly has tuberculosis.

Right. So. Most of the book is about all these strange people interacting with each other and with the prank-playing “ghost”, and a surprising amount of time is spent trying to figure out whether the androgynous kid is a dude or a chick, but then eventually there is a murder and Glebsky’s on the case. There’s a dead dude in a locked room (the best kind of case!), a strange mechanical object with no apparent use, several people whose luggage is suspect, and a whole lot of conflicting stories.

And, well, it’s weird. The case does not solve itself in the manner which you might expect from that description, and although there are not-so-subtle hints dropped throughout the novel that point you in the right direction it’s still kind of like, really? And there is a really lame epilogue, but this book was written in 1970 in Russian, so I’ll just let that slide.

What is great about this book is the characters, who are all strange in their own special way and who all think everyone else is the strange one, and the writing, which is maybe a little roughly translated or maybe is meant to evoke confusion with choppy sentences and disconnected thoughts. Either way, it lends this kind of “what the heck” vibe to the whole book that helps make the “what the heck” ending seem a little more appropriate.

I am definitely intrigued by this odd little book, and I will have to check out other weird Russian books in the future. Suggestions?

Recommendation: For those who love books that don’t make a lot of sense on purpose.

Rating: 8/10

p.s. Apparently if you’re not feeling up to actually reading this book, you can play it on Steam. If you do, let me know how it goes!

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