Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Review of Appleby and Honeybath by Michael Innes
Portrait painter, Charles Honeybath, is commissioned by members of the local hunt to paint a portrait of Terence Grinton, Master of Foxhounds. Honeybath goes to stay as a guest at Grinton Hall and spends some time trying to select a suitable setting for the portrait. There is one room at Grinton Hall that is never entered: the library, and 'the ghost of the library (if the expression isn't too strange a one) was somehow at large at Grinton. This was perhaps because Mr Grinton wasn't merely of a philistine temperament and indifferent to books. He hated them, particularly if their authors had names like Pliny or Julius Caesar.' Despite this, Honeybath thinks that the contrast of erudition and Grinton's ruddy complexion and hunting clothes may prove an interesting artistic challenge and seeks out the library..
When Honeybath enters the library he finds a man sitting there and apologises for disturbing him. 'the eminent painter (whose unflawed courtesy was an unobtrusive part of his make-up) was about to withdraw as quietly as might be when he realized that something was wrong. He walked up to the seated figure, touched a hand, with his own hand made a small gesture before open and unblinking eyes, and saw that he was almost certainly in the presence of a dead man. This was a shock. There was a greater shock when he took in the expression frozen, as it were, upon the dead man's face. It could be described only as exhibiting malign glee.'
Honeybath immediately leaves the library, locking the door behind him and goes to seek his host. On the way, he is fortunate to encounter his friend and fellow guest John Appleby, retired Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. They return to the library together and, to Honeybath's confusion and dismay, the body has vanished. Honeybath is afraid that people will doubt his sanity but after searching the library and guided by the smell of toasted cheese, Appleby and Honeybath find a concealed door which leads to some rough rooms, once quarters for outdoors servants, one of which is roughly furnished and bearing the remains of a simple meal. This time both Appleby and Honeybath go to tell Terence Grinton of their discoveries but when they return, accompanied by Grinton and Inspector Denver of the local police, the body is still missing and all sign that the servant's room has been occupied has disappeared as well.
What follows is a lively romp through many of the conventions of mystery writing: a locked room mystery, an 18th Century, literary secret from the time when Terence Grinton's ancestor, Jonathan Grinton, had 'entertained at Grinton Hall somebody referred to by Terence Grinton as 'a little chappie called Pope.' Indeed, at times, the story resembles a game of Cluedo, especially as one of the guests at Grinton Hall is an irritating woman who claims to be clairvoyant and rejoices in the name of Mrs Mustard.
The story culminates in a classic gathering together of all the suspects so that Appleby can run through the case as it stands and reveal the truth behind the death and the other strange events. Even this summation is treated to Innes' witty humour, as when Appleby pauses in his somewhat lengthy explanation and says, '”We are finished, however, with the events of the afternoon. The events of the night are to follow.”
“But quite a lot more happened yesterday afternoon.” Dolly Grinton broke in with this rather as if accused of having provided insufficient entertainment for her guests. “We all heard about Mr Honeybath finding a body, and Terence told me to send for Mr Denver, and statements were taken, and goodness knows what.”'
Appleby and Honeybath is an intriguing mystery, with literary clues, and lively characters. Because Appleby and Honeybath are both likeable characters the tone of the book is warmer than some of Innes' other mysteries and the wit and humour make it a very enjoyable read.
Publisher: House of Stratus; New edition edition (23 Sep 2008)