The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (1970) (read in 2016)
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This is a whodunnit mystery starring Peter Glebsky as a Russian customs and counterfeit officer on vacation at a remote mountain cabin—somewhere in the Alps—with several other guests. He has traveled there alone and wishes to enjoy two weeks away from work. Classic setup.
The other guests are all odd in their own way: the exceedingly rich Mr. Morse and his ravishing wife, the illusionist Mr. Du Barnstoker and his androgynous and near-constantly be-sunglassed nibling Brun, Mr. Simonet, a world-renowned physicist and accomplished mountain climber, Mr. Hinckus, an odd, little and quiet attorney, as well as Olaf Andvarafors, a giant of a man in both size and personality.
As you can well imagine, bodies start to appear, alcohol is drunk in prodigious quantities, accusations are thrown, people disappear, odd clues are found and Glebsky is drawn ever farther from the peace and relaxation he’d sought. The Mafia becomes involved. Some of the guests turn out to be robots.
This is a story of first contact. As with Roadside Picnic, this alien contact does not lead to any satisfying conclusion for anyone. It is depicted as confusing and fruitless as such things usually are (i.e. when two cultures collide, if only briefly). In the light of not being able know for sure anything about anything, Glebsky muses that one unsatisfying “truth” is as good as any other, so one might as well choose the most satisfying one.
““Yes,” he said. “I know what you mean: the way a man carries himself is the most important thing, everything else is secondary. No doubt you’re right. Mr. Simone has provided me with an inexhaustible source of reflection on the glaring discrepancy between a man’s behavior when he’s relaxing, and the value for humankind of that same man when he’s at work.” “Huh,” I said. It was worse than the quirt.”
I was intrigued by the use of this phrase, as I’d only known the name from the NHL player.
“Miraculously preserved, in spite of everything. It’s a Pavel Bure.”
Here Glebsky muses on what I have found to be a consistent Strugatsky theme: the bliss of ignorance.
“What did I know about this apparatus? Only what Moses had told me. Yes, everything that Moses had said sounded true. And if it was just a very consistent picture of something whose truth was completely different? If I had only been unable to find the question that would have shattered this picture’s surface. (Emphasis added.)”
Gelbsky muses on how we confabulate and teach others around us to do so, as well.
“She says that even if I hadn’t made things so difficult for Moses and the rest of them, it would have still ended in a huge tragedy, because then the gangsters would have arrived at the inn and, most likely, killed all of us who were still there. All that is undoubtedly true. I myself have taught her to say these things, only by now she has forgotten that, and it seems to her that they are her own ideas. (Emphasis added.)”