First published: UK, Gollancz, 1972; US, Dodd, Mead, 1972
Highly fantastic, improbable and melodramatic — the wedding, the open house / return of heir, the South American conspirators, and the suspicious butler. The entire affair is hilarious, although there is little straight detection. Note the annoying Carrian tendency of INTERRUPTIONS.
Once again a startling tour de force from Michael Innes: the action covers only one fantastic night, in which the unbeatable Appleby discovers a complex crime with its roots in the distant past, and solves it between darkness and dawn. In fact, half of a winter night has already passed when he comes upon the scene of the crime—a crime yet not committed, though elaborately set up.
It is a very dark night, and Appleby is driving along a lonely country road when his car fails. He wanders up a drive in search of help; and suddenly a magnificent Palladian mansion springs to light before him, its every window uncurtained and simultaneously illuminated—like a great fanfare of trumpets.
What can this mean?—and after midnight. A party?—but there’s not a sound to be heard. An unlikely burglar-alarm?—but the front door is standing invitingly open. Appleby walks into the splendid pillared hall—and in doing so walks into one of his strangest adventures. In turn he becomes involved with a dotty professor, a saturnine butler named Leonidas, an unexpected parson, a mysterious woman in white, art thieves, South American conspirators, first and second murderers, a mutilated corpse, the theft of a Claude, an explosion in a safe, a struggle in a hall of mirrors, a gun battle around an 18th century ice-house…
Appleby is in his element and, though he’d be loath to admit it, having the time of his life. And so is the reader. This is Michael Innes at the top of his form. Need we say more?
Times Literary Supplement (4th February 1972):
Michael Innes, having mercifully dropped young Bobby Appleby, is back in fine style with a jolly fantasy on a country house, complete with chapel, conservatory and ice-house, suddenly illuminated before a benighted Appleby senior. An agreeable extravaganza, slightly marred by Dickson-Carr-like interruptions at each moment of potentially fraught revelation.