Friday, June 8, 2018

Michael Innes, A Night of Errors

Michael Innes, A Night of Errors
Ipso Books (reprint, 2018)
© 1948 Michael Innes

I recently read Innes’ first mystery featuring John Appleby (Death at the President’s Lodgings (1936); reviewed here:, and my feelings about it were mixed.  A number of people urged me not to give up on his works (which I had not planned to do; I have read some o them in the fairly distant past, although none of the titles ring any bells).  I sorry to say that A Night of Errors seems to me to have been even less impressive than his first Appleby novel.

The book opens with a fairly extended introduction to the Dromio family history, from the first Dromio to arrive in England several centuries before to the current head of the family, Oliver.  The family had prospered to the extent that in the early 1800s, the head of the family (Ferdinand) received a baronetcy.  In an interesting quirk of family genetics, the family ran to identical twins.  In the current generation, however, identical triplets were borne to Sir Romeo and Lady Katherine.  And, two of those three died in a fire that was, seemingly deliberately set in the nursery in which the three were sleeping.  Leaving only Oliver.  Oliver proves, however, to be a poor manager of the family’s fortunes, and, as the story begins, is in America seeking an American heiress who is willing to marry a (minor) member of the English aristocracy.  Getting us to this point takes 50 pages.

Somewhat more quickly, we get to the first death, the circumstances of which I will not reveal.  But it leads to the local Inspector (Hyland) to enlist the services of John Appleby, retired from Scotland Yard and living nearby.  They endeavor to determine what has happened (including finding an explanation for the post-mortem treatment of the body, which is presumed to be that of Sir Oliver Dromio.  We have a cast of characters including the alcoholic butler, the somewhat less-than- energetic gardener (and other retainers), the Vicar, Oliver’s younger brother Sebastian…

The investigation is concluded by the end of the day following the first death.  But the narrative becomes fairly complex, including questions of identity, multiple explanations for the treatment of the corpse, and so on.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the end, I no longer particularly cared who had killed whom.

I know Innnes’s work is highly thought of.  (His wikipedia page includes some of the reactions to his work:  I tend to agree with Julian Symons’s take.  He “identified Innes as one of the ‘farceurs’—crime writers for whom the detective story was ‘an over-civilized joke with a frivolity which makes it a literary conversation piece with detection taking place on the side’—and described Innes's writing as being ‘rather in the manner of Peacock strained through or distorted by Aldous Huxley.’ ” (The material here is quoted from the wikipedia page.)

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