Priscilla Pringle is the successful author of a number of ecclesiastical murder mysteries and is rather proud when she is joined in her carriage by someone reading a copy of her book, Murder In The Cathedral. But when she strikes up a conversation with Captain Bulkington (great name), after taking a peek at his belongings first, it seems that he is no ordinary traveller.
He offers her £500 to co-write a mystery novel with him, and he has very precise ideas about who should be the victim… Meanwhile, Sir John Appleby, on holiday with his wife, stumbles across the events taking place. What exactly is going on at Bulkington’s house? Is he really just preparing his two guests for a place at Oxbridge, or a more sinister purpose? Who pulling the strings? And who is to be the victim?
Michael Innes aka J I M Stewart is another name that’s come onto my radar since my revived interest in the Golden Age and with regards to Innes, everyone recommends Hamlet, Revenge as the go-to book. But (even though I’ve got that one) I found a bunch more of Innes’ work in a bookshop the other day in Welshpool (Treehigh Sales – no online store unfortunately, but a cracking selection of new and old books with a hefty crime section) and thought I’d take a look at this one. In part because it’s short – 150 pages.
I mentioned Innes as Golden Age – he wrote 33 Appleby novels (and 4 short story collections) between 1936 and 1987 – this one dates from 1973. And there is a sign of the times as well – if you recall the dodgy bit I mentioned in my review of Last Bus To Woodstock, then there’s a similar bit here, where Appleby dismisses an event as not important. Very odd reading it today that a policeman would dismiss a potential rape but this was written nearly forty years ago.
Anyway, the book itself is… odd. Innes was a delightful writing style with a real wit stretching throughout the book and the plot is certainly different from a standard murder mystery. It’s much more of a “what exactly (if anything) is going on” and as it’s such a short book, it’s very hard to say anything about it.
I think the easiest way of summing up if you’d like the book is this. A bizarre but clichéd event (such as slipping on a banana skin) is related to Inspector Appleby by Miss Pringle. He believes her because “no author would make up something like that happening”. Ho, ho, Mr Innes. A hint of the meta- about that. It made me smile and probably decided which side of the fence to come down on.
So, yes, I enjoyed the book despite its oddness. I’m very interested to try something a little more standard from Innes, as I did like his writing style. I’m sure some people will hate this one – it’s available as an ebook, but it’s not cheap – but it’s Well Worth A Look.