The New Sonia Wayward (Michael Innes)

By Michael Innes

First published: UK, Gollancz, 1960; US, Dodd, Mead, 1960, as The Case of Sonia Wayward

My review

This is how the inverted novel ought to be written: no unbelievable sexual psychopaths in dingy tenements here; instead, we have a scathing satire on the literary world (and word). The writing is zestful, the dialogue excellent, the complications shocking and original, and the ending masterly. There are only two points which need a leap of faith before all else follows naturally: firstly, that Colonel Petticate would throw his wife’s body overboard; and that the servants would be professional blackmailers. The title refers to three things: Petticate ghosting his wife’s books; the award-winning ghost-written book; and Miss Smith’s impersonation of Sonia. As amusing as Wodehouse at his best.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 3rd July 1960):

Quirky but suppressed R.A.M.C. colonel married to fearful best-selling bully consigns her corpse to the waves.  Then, as he can do her style to perfection, mounts her tosh horse.  Sure way of getting haunted.  All kinds of contretemps including some nice professional literary fun with her agent amid the symbolic titles.  Remote affinities with Aldous Huxley, perhaps also Arnold Bennett.  Rather light for a suspense story but most pleasingly written.


Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 12th August 1960):

Crime is not a sport to M. Simenon [neither in Mme. Maigret’s Friend nor in In Case of Emergency], but in The New Sonia Wayward Mr. Innes makes it one, with distinction.  Colonel Petticate, selfish, too clever by half, blinded by his own complacency, decides to conceal the death of his rich novelist-wife and to live a more congenial life than coexistence with her had previously permitted.  The situations produced by this action are narrated with pleasing irony and the reader feels that the fate which finally befalls the Colonel is a good example of poetic justice.  The book is described as a thriller, and this the interest aroused by the Colonel’s casting about to find means to overcome his sinister troubles amply justifies, but the story’s real charm is in its comedy.