Having enjoyed two of Michael Innes’ Inspector Appleby novels last year – Hamlet, Revenge! and Lament for a Maker – I was drawn to this one next, because I liked the title and thought it would be appropriate as we’ve had some snowy weather here recently. Actually, although the novel is set during the Christmas period and there are a few mentions of snow, it doesn’t have a particularly wintry feel and could be read at any time of year.
It begins with our narrator, Arthur Ferryman, arriving at a family gathering at Belrive Priory, the home of his cousin, Basil Roper. The priory has been in the family for generations and nobody feels a closer affinity with its ancient stone walls, formal gardens and soot-blackened ruins than Arthur does. It comes as a shock, then, when he hears that Basil is planning to sell the estate to finance an expedition. As more members of the Roper family descend, along with various cousins and friends, it becomes clear that Arthur is not the only one unhappy with Basil’s decision. When one of the party is found shot while sitting at the desk in the study, there are plenty of suspects and plenty of motives. With perfect timing, Inspector Appleby arrives at the door just as the body is discovered, having received an invitation from Basil. Can Appleby find the culprit before someone else is hurt?
There Came Both Mist and Snow is my least favourite of the three Innes novels I’ve read so far. The mystery itself was well-constructed; Appleby seems to play a bigger role than in the other two books (certainly than in Lament for a Maker, where he only appeared near the end) and I enjoyed following the course of his investigations, with Arthur Ferryman as a sort of Watson character. There are several possible theories which are put forward by various members of the party and all of them seem plausible, which means the reader is constantly being led in the wrong direction. I would never have guessed the eventual solution; the clues aren’t concealed from the reader, exactly, but it’s definitely not something that is easy to deduce for yourself.
My problem with the book was due mainly to the length of time it took to get started. In the opening chapters we are given a lot of information on the Roper family background, the history of Belrive Priory and the changes that have come to the surrounding area as the neon lights of breweries and factories begin to shine into the priory’s ancient grounds. This information wasn’t completely insignificant, but I felt that it could have been woven more gradually into the story so that we could have reached the crime itself more quickly.
I think I would also have found the book more enjoyable if the characters had not been such an unpleasant and uninteresting group of people! I did like one of them – Arthur’s cousin Lucy Chigwidden, who happens to be a crime novelist, which gives Innes a chance to poke fun at his own profession – but none of the others were what I would consider strong or memorable characters.
I was a bit disappointed by this one, especially after enjoying the others so much, but I will continue to read the Appleby mysteries. I have The Daffodil Affair and Appleby’s End to choose from next.