First published: UK, Gollancz, 1940; US, Dodd, Mead, 1941
A very strange and silly book which yet succeeds in being entertaining, despite (or because of?) that very quality. The plot is as exotic and lush as the setting: Appleby and a small group of Empirers are shipwrecked on a Pacific island inhabited by sinister archaeologists, German spies, and transvestites. Although there are the usual Innesian linguistic blocks (e.g., at one point the heroine is described as “being as yet unaware of being obscurely conscious of offence”), the book is remarkably well-written, even if steeped overmuch in Freud.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 14th June 1941):
Richness is Mr. Innes’s quality. Every sentence he writes has flavour, every incident flamboyance, and his plots are so luxuriant as to make rival detective stories and thrillers look like allotments. He was bound to arrive in the tropics sooner or later and here he is at last in the South Seas on an uninhabited isle more richly inhabited than all the others of celebrated romances. Even the necessary shipwreck is threepence or fourpence coloured. The castaways, after the liner has been torpedoed, are in the sundeck café, floating upside down on a plate-glass bottom, with its supply of swizzle sticks and cherries intact. These castaways have their ultra-psychological hues, particularly the Australian heroine and a Colonel Blimp who serves as a timely reminder that the type can inspire affection. The cannibals are very choice and the hidden treasure more passion-exciting than ever. The murder mystery might almost be overlooked. The detective is nothing.
Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 1st July 1941):
Who in all the world of living literary men but Mr. Michael Innes would have dared to begin a tale with an overturned sun-deck café and its half-dozen inmates floating away from a liner torpedoed in the Pacific? But that is only the beginning of the adventures recounted by Mr. Innes in Appleby on Ararat. The drifting café, well supplied with liquid refreshment, less so with more substantial provender, arrives, after a brief interlude of contemplated cannibalism, at an uninhabited island—at least, apparently uninhabited, but in fact even better provided than that we all remember in The Swiss Family Robinson, for Mr. Innes’s island can boast not only all necessities for shipwrecked mariners but also “tout confort moderne”, as well as a supply of somewhat mysterious spear-brandishing natives. From observing such small details as glasses too carefully filled to the brim Appleby, as can also the reader, deduces that there’s mischief afoot. Finally, after more hair-raising adventures, Appleby explodes—literally—a far-reaching international plot. The book is written with all Mr. Innes’s accustomed wit and learning and is a most curious amalgam of detective tale and spy-yarn, of the desert island theme, of the boy’s adventure story, and finally of rollicking farce. To readers of the more sophisticated type the book will appeal enormously. But others may be inclined to suspect Mr. Innes of having this time pushed his tongue into his cheek just a little too far.