The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes

The Daffodil Affair Michael Innes

I’ve read a lot of Michael Innes books over the years and also his books written under the name J.I.M. Stewart and I usually really enjoy them but for me The Daffodil Affair was a disappointment. It was first published in 1942 and it’s an Appleby mystery so I settled down to enjoy a good wartime puzzle but the storyline is decidedly weird and really if it had been written by anyone else I think I would have given up on it fairly early on – and I hardly ever give up on books.

The story begins in wartime London where bombs have been raining down and ruined buildings are part of daily life. At Scotland Yard the Assistant-Commissioner’s sister who resides in Harrogate has reported that a horse called Daffodil has disappeared, it happens to be her favourite cab-horse. Appleby is dispatched to that northern England spa town to get to the bottom of the mystery.

But it isn’t only a horse which has vanished, a young girl called Lucy Rideout and a London house have disappeared too. The house was supposedly haunted.

It turns out that someone is gathering people who are supposed to possess special psychic powers together, with the intention of assembling a huge psychic circus, and Appleby and his side-kick Hudspith end up travelling to the other side of the world to get to the bottom of it all – in the middle of a world war!!!

As I said, this is a deeply weird one, I’m just wondering if Michael Innes was on some sort of medication at the time!

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2014 challenge. I wouldn’t recommend it, but don’t be put off trying other books by the author.

From London Far by Michael Innes

This vintage crime book was first published in 1946 which is just about my favourite crime fiction era but somehow this one didn’t hit the spot for me.

The action begins in London where Meredith, an absent minded university professor inadvertently gets involved with a criminal gang who are involved in the procurement of famous works of art. With Europe being in upheaval due to the war there’s a lot of scope for criminal types in that line of work.

I quite enjoy crime mixed with humour but this one just took daftness to the extreme and it began to resemble a sort of Indiana Jones type of storyline, very far-fetched and ‘boys own adventure story’-ish.

The action switches to Moila, a Scottish island which I think is the Isle of Mull. Strangely Mary Stewart uses this island as the setting of her book Stormy Petrel, but Moila doesn’t seem to exist, the Gaelic for Mull is Muile.

Meredith is joined in his adventure by a young woman, Jean Halliwell, who had been a student of his and towards the end of their Mull adventure the whole thing takes on the feeling of a James Bond film, Modernist house with gadgets, stylish swimming pool and scantily clad beauties and all.

I’m sure that Ian Fleming must have read this book and thought to himself that he would have a go at something like that himself – only more so! The first James Bond book wasn’t written until 1952.

Michael Innes often liked to have a storyline involving art and of course as he was a university lecturer in his day job he also liked a university setting. There was, and still is a lot of snobbishness in such circles about the types of novels which they read, novels being seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Crime fiction was always seen as acceptable light reading and so Innes wouldn’t have been looked down on by his colleagues, but he is careful to have his books full of quotes and references to literature and art, just so that his books would be seen as ‘high class’ crime.

As I said, this wasn’t really my cup of tea but that’s because it wasn’t the cosy sort of railway station and country house setting which I enjoy most. If you’re into crazy action and nutty situations then you may well love this one.

The new Sonia Wayward by Michael Innes

The new Sonia Wayward

I’ve been meaning to participate in the Crime Fiction Alphabet hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, for weeks now, but somehow I was always just too late. Anyway, here I go now, this week’s letter is N and I’ve read a Michael Innes book which was first published in 1960.

The new Sonia Wayward is an unusual book because there are no really likeable characters in it, which for me anyway is usually a real turn off in a book but this one manages to overcome that huge disadvantage.

It begins with the very sudden death of Colonel Ffolliot Petticate’s wife, Sonia Wayward, whilst they are out sailing in their small yacht. It’s a financial disaster for her husband as Sonia was earning the money as a writer of very popular fiction. The colonel is retired from the army and only has a small pension to live on.

After imbibing a large quantity of whisky to settle his nerves, he decides to dispose of Sonia overboard, with the intention of telling everyone that she is travelling, it’s important to pretend that she’s still alive, so that he can continue to live his very comfortable life. He takes on the task of finishing Sonia’s latest novel and fends off all inquiries as to Sonia’s whereabouts.

At the beginning the Colonel decides to keep the lies and deceit to the minimum, but they multiply like crazy and he finds himself in a very sticky situation when his live-in servants become suspicious as to the fate of their employer.

That’s really just the bare bones of the book as I don’t like to say too much about crime fiction, but this book is absolutely full of twists and turns from the very beginning and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Michael Innes was born in Edinburgh in 1906, was educated at Edinburgh University and Oriel College, Oxford and went on to become a Professor of English at various universities. He had a very long writing career which you can read about here. He also wrote under his real name, J.I.M. Stewart, and those books are also well worth reading.

Edinburgh Book Haul

You might know that I went to Hay-on-Wye (that famous book town) recently and was quite disappointed with the place, I didn’t manage to find any books which I wanted to buy.

So it was a lovely surprise when we came out the east gate of the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, to discover second-hand bookshops which were completely unknown to me. We hadn’t been in that area of Edinburgh before, I think it is called Broughton Road.

Edinburgh Book Haul

As you can see, I bought four:
Silence Observed by Michael Innes
The New Sonia Wayward by Michael Innes
The Village by Marghanita Laski
The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier

I was especially chuffed to find the du Maurier book in a shop which is part bookshop and part antiques shop. I would have bought it anyway but it’s particularly nice that it’s a signed copy, as you can see. It was very reasonably priced too.

Bookplate

I always get my best book finds when I least expect to. I could have bought quite a few more books but I exercised restraint and of course I now wish I hadn’t. Luckily, Edinburgh isn’t very far away!

Going It Alone by Michael Innes

Michael Innes was a Scottish author who also wrote under the name of J.I.M. Stewart, which was his real name but as Going It Alone is a mystery it’s a Michael Innes book. It’s ages since I read any of the Stewart books and I hope to rectify that soon but from memory this book seemed more like those ones than his usual Innes books.

Maybe it was just because the storyline involves a family and there is no detective involved, just an uncle who helps his nephew when he gets mixed up with unsavoury characters which results in attempted murder, blackmail, kidnapping and robbery.

The uncle, Gilbert Averell, isn’t exactly completely innocent himself as he’s living in France as a tax exile from England and has entered Britain using a friend’s passport to avoid having to stump up more cash to the treasury.

It was first published in 1980 and is an enjoyable bit of light reading. Michael Innes had an incredibly long career as an author, over 50 years, and he usually manages to squeeze a bit of humour into his books too.

Road Trip Book Haul

October 2011 books

I suppose there are worse addictions to be afflicted with but I just couldn’t stop myself from hitting every second-hand bookshop which I found on our journey from Fife to East Anglia. My excuse is that I think we’re going to suffer yet another horrendous winter and if we’re snowed/iced in again I’ll need plenty of reading material, but if I’m honest, I’m never going to be in danger of running out of books to read. I think they just about all come under the category of comfort reads and they’re all fairly ancient, the most recent publication is Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and even that’s fairly old – 1985, and probably isn’t a comfort read but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. So this is what I bought and I have to say that I don’t feel too naughty because I could have bought a lot more …

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Setons by O. Douglas
The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
Going It Alone by Michael Innes
Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher
An Academic Question by Barbara Pym
An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
Ankle Deep by Angela Thirkell
Close Quarters by Angela Thirkell
Growing Up by Angela Thirkell
Enter Sir Robert by Angela Thirkell
Summer by Edith Wharton

… and last but not least Crime Stories from The Strand which is a lovely Folio book of short stories by crime writers such as Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, A.E.W. Mason and many more. I was especially chuffed to get the four Thirkells, three of which I bought from a stall in Cambridge market, her books don’t often turn up in Scotland for some reason, strange really as she’s at least half Scottish.

I’m hoping to have sorted through some photos from our trip by tomorrow.

Lord Mullion’s Secret by Michael Innes

This one was published in 1981 and although it’s a fairly entertaining read I have to say that it’s completely different from the usual books published under the name of Michael Innes. There’s no murderer or real mystery to be detected.

It’s a Charles Honeybath mystery and Honeybath is a well-known portrait painter so when Lord Mullion invites Honeybath to his stately home so that he can paint Lady Mullion’s portrait we’re taken straight into that favourite environment of the mystery writer. It feels very like a vintage crime book for that reason and the only modern thing in the book is the television set which is carefully hidden behind panneling, away from the eyes of the paying public who tour Mullion Castle.

It’s more a romance than a mystery, although there is a wee bit of family mystery along the way. It’s very light-hearted and quite amusing at times, a comfort sort of read.

Charles Honeybath and Lord Mullion had been at boarding school together, in fact as Lord Mullion is younger he had been Honeybath’s ‘servant’. I suppose we all know that in those situations the younger lad is called a fag, but I hadn’t realised before that the older boy is called the fagmaster! Honestly, you have to laugh at the upper-class twittiness which probably still goes on at places like Eton. I wonder who was David Cameron’s fag!

Book haul

You might know that I’ve been avoiding buying books recently, mainly because I’ve got so many unread books in my house. But last week I bought a few in Edinburgh and that sort of opened the floodgates.

As it was a lovely day today we took ourselves off to St Andrews and ended up (well actually we began) in the bookshops. This lot is the result.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
Love by Elizabeth von Arnim
The Courts of the Morning by John Buchan
Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham
Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

The book gods must have been hovering above me today. Only one Virago mind you but what a one, I love Elizabeth von Arnim. There weren’t any books by the authors that I was actually looking for, except for The Braddons by Angela Thirkell but I requested that one from the library so there wasn’t any point in buying it.

It’s just as well that I’ve got more time for reading now that we don’t have a house full of boys any more.

On to Dundee to try out Duncan’s local fish and chip shop which was very good. Then we had coffee towers from Fisher and Donaldson – so bang went the healthy diet. And bang went another Saturday too.

Well, if you’re going to fall off the wagon you might as well do it in style.

Appleby and Honeybath by Michael Innes

Michael Innes had his first crime fiction book published in 1936 so he had a very long writing career, as well as an academic one too. His crime fiction is a bit like that of Dorothy Sayers in that they aren’t just light fiction and they do have allusions to more literary books along the way, and to art in general.

In Appleby and Honeybath – as it says on the cover – two masterminds of detection fiction-together for the first time. They have both been invited to – yes, you guessed it – a country house weekend! The now retired Sir John Appleby has been asked along with his wife Judith because she is a distant relative of the owners. Charles Honeybath has been commissioned to paint the portrait of the house owner, Terence Grinton.

Whilst Honeybath is wandering around the house looking for inspiration for a setting for the portrait he comes across a dead body in the library – as you do! Honestly, this book is like a game of Cluedo in fiction, there’s even a character called Mrs Mustard. But somehow that all seems to add to the charm of the whole thing and I ended up enjoying it.

It’s perfect bedtime reading or if like me you are feeling a bit under the weather. It’s a very quick read at only 155 pages.

A Private View by Michael Innes

Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t have an image of the classic Penguin edition. My copy is an original which I was lucky enough to buy very cheaply along with a whole load of others in Edinburgh.

This book was first published in 1952 and I would say that it does have plenty of period atmosphere about it, which is always a pleasure to me. It’s liberally sprinkled with Humbers and Austin Sevens cars and mentions a florin in the very first page. Ah, the nostalgia of it all. If you aren’t that old you might not know that a florin was the name of a 2 shilling coin in the pre decimal days. I well remember getting a couple of them for my pocket-money in the 1960s. It is 10p in new money.

Anyway, back to the book. I really enjoyed this one. Appleby has been elevated to the dizzy heights of Assistant Commissioner of Police and has been given a knighthood.

Sir John and his wife Lady Appleby (who is an artist) visit a private view of the memorial exhibition of Gavin Limbert, a young artist who has recently been found dead in his flat, from a gunshot wound. Whilst at the exhibition one of the paintings is stolen and so begins the mystery involving more murders and lots of intrigue which I’m not going to elaborate here.

Lady Appleby, otherwise known as Judith does a fair bit of sleuthing in this story and there is also quite a lot of humour in it, always welcome, I think!

The night club in the story is called the Thomas Carlyle, a nod from one Scottish author to another. I can just hear Carlyle ‘birling’ in his grave.

Another character in the book is Moe Steptoe, a second-hand/junk dealer who even has a yard with double doors as in Steptoe and Son. This character was written at least 10 years before Ray Galton and Alan Simpson came up with Albert Steptoe. I can’t help thinking that one of them must have read A Private View and then forgotten about it and used the character and situation.

If you’re into vintage crime then you’ll probably enjoy this one and it’s also a very quick read at just 199 pages.

I do have a soft spot for vintage Penguin books. I know that the covers are very plain, but to me they are understated and classy!