While Appleby is strolling along a Cornish beach, he narrowly escapes being struck by a body falling down a cliff. The body is that of Dr Sutch, an archivist, and he has fallen from the North Tower of Treskinnick Castle, home of Lord Ampersand. Two possible motivations present themselves to Appleby - the Ampersand gold, treasure from an Armada galleon; and the Ampersand papers, valuable family documents that have associations with Wordsworth and Shelley.
©2012 Michael Innes (P)2012 Audible Ltd
I just couldn't get into listening to this book. It was slow, nothing building or anything to pique my interest. That said, everyone's taste differs.
"An amuzing period detective story"
I picked this book from a selection offered some weeks ago. I enjoy detective stories from Sherlock Holmes to Rebus and also Scandinavian authors. I had not heard of nor read any of Michael Innes books but will read others. This was a lighter read than some of the otther authors but that does not detract from my enjoyment of it. The characters from Appleby to the family paint a great picture of a lost era - the story is in the tradition of Conan Doyle. Matt Addis draws each of the characters well.
"Not Appleby's Finest Hour"
Sorry - I don't do Q&A reviews. If you don't like the way I've written this - don't publish it.
I've been a fan of the Appleby books since I first chortled my way through "The Daffodil Affair" (defiantly bizarre) decades ago. I've even read them aloud and know that Innes prose works well at that pace. I've read all the classics and so was glad to find this one on Audible, which I didn't know. The reader does his best, but is not given the material to produce good results.I should have saved myself the time and money and got a copy of (for example) "Stop Press", instead.
So, what's wrong with this one? Well, firstly the time spent setting up the mystery is much too long. The entire first half of the book is a description of the members and history of the Ampersand family. Sometimes this sort of approach works - if the author is really interested in the background and is writing a good story about his/her people, which then turns into a detective story. If you read "Light Thickens" by Ngaio Marsh, you can see that it's really a novel about theatre people with detective interruptions - and it's a good one.
"The Ampersand Papers" also has its detective inserted into the plot only half way through the book. Innes simply brazens out the implausibility of a retired Appleby just happening to be passing on a walking holiday.The book is plodding as well. Perhaps it is simply that Innes' usually quirky ultra-dry humour doesn't work at the pace of an audiobook. But I think that it's more that he seems to have lost the zest for language which usually carries his books forward.
Too much time is spent in back plot setting up the motive for the crime and then the variant on the "locked room" mystery also set up too laboriously. There's room at the top of a tower, accessible only via one rickety staircase, which contains a chest full of literary papers which no one has cared much about for decades. Innes sets that one up early in the novel and you can see the crime scenario up from that - coupled with the title. You then have to wait for many chapters for that crime and the detectives to turn up. This could be Innes flirting with his readers (a not unknown Innes feature) - but this reader just kept saying, "Get on with it, man!"
Appleby keeps trying to back out of the job, "I'm retired and it's not my business." You can't help sympathising. The Ampersand family are the usual Innes collection of English upper-crust self-absorbed characters - hardly a likeable one amongst them. To justify the amount of time spent with this family, you need to have either sympathy for them and their preoccupations (mainly money, here) or the sharp turn of phrase which Innes usually provides.
So, plot predictable and slow in arriving; characters unappealing without being good targets for wit and the language unforgivably pedestrian. If you want to see how Innes can do literary detective novels, try "Hamlet Revenge!" or how careful character construction can keep you glued to a slowly unfolding plot, try "Lament for a Maker" or for Innes getting away with outrageous plots by wit and bravado, go to "Appleby's End".
I could go on with lists of classic Innes - often with a literary flavour (he was an Oxford don) - but I will sum it up by saying that this reviewer is a great Innes fan, but I think this is probably the worst book of the Innes oeuvre that I have come across. I can't give any Innes book only 1 star, since it remains careful in its language and distinctive in its setting, and the reader does a competent job, but two seems very generous.
Slow to start, the plot is uninteresting. There is little explanation of events and the ending makes me feel I wasted five hours of my life. It could be my taste in books but compared to others in the genre, it is quite a poor effort.
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