Appleby’s End by Michael Innes

I’ve read quite a few of Michael Innes’ Inspector Appleby mysteries now; I think this is my sixth, and although I enjoyed it more than my last one, The Daffodil Affair, it doesn’t compare to my two favourites, Hamlet, Revenge! and Lament for a Maker. While I love the imaginativeness of his plots, some of them are a bit too bizarre and outlandish for me, and this is one of them.

The novel opens with Inspector John Appleby falling into conversation with a man sitting opposite on the train. His name is Everard Raven, an eccentric lawyer and writer of encyclopedias who is on his way home to his family’s country estate, Long Dream Manor. When Appleby discovers that he has made a mistake with the train timetable and won’t be able to reach his own destination until the following day, Everard offers to give him a room for the night at Long Dream. Meanwhile, they have been joined by the other members of the Raven family – Everard’s brothers, Luke and Robert, and two younger cousins, Judith and Mark – who are also returning home. They all disembark from the train together at a station which, to Appleby’s surprise, happens to be called Appleby’s End.

The eventful journey is not over yet, however. The horse-drawn carriage which has been sent to transport them from the station to Long Dream Manor gets stuck crossing a river and Appleby and Judith Raven find themselves separated from the rest of the party. Making their own way back to the house, they make a gruesome discovery – the head of one of the family servants half-buried in a snowdrift. When Appleby begins to investigate, he uncovers a possible connection between the servant’s death and a series of strange happenings in a nearby village. Strangest of all is the fact that these occurrences closely resemble plots from the long-forgotten works of Ranulph Raven, the late father of Everard, Luke and Robert. Can Ranulph’s novels really be starting to come true?

The story quickly becomes more and more surreal, as Appleby encounters a woman who believes she is a cow, animals turning into marble statues and rumours of witchcraft and magic. There are characters with names like Heyhoe and Rainbird and villages called Snarl, Drool, Sneak and Linger. At the heart of the novel there is an interesting and clever mystery taking place, but, for me, it gets lost beneath the sheer ridiculousness of it all. I’m sure it was intended to be a parody of rural life, and I could see some similarities with Cold Comfort Farm at times, but the humour didn’t really work for me. The only other notable thing to say about this book is that Appleby falls in love – I think. It’s not a particularly romantic romance – although he and his love interest do spend a night in a haystack together, which leads to a proposal of marriage.

Based on what I’ve read so far, all of Michael Innes’ novels do seem to be a bit quirky, but I prefer the ones that are slightly more serious. I’ll continue to read his books but I hope the next one I pick up will be a better choice for me.

9 thoughts on “Appleby’s End by Michael Innes

    • Helen says:

      I think I was lucky with the first two books of his that I read. I loved them both, but the others I’ve read have been disappointing in comparison.

  1. Margaret says:

    I have a copy of this one too – and was hoping I would like it more than The Daffodil Affair, which I thought was weird with a completely unrealistic plot. But it sounds just as surreal.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think this book is quite as weird as The Daffodil Affair and I did enjoy it a bit more, so don’t let me put you off. I think it was the silly names in this one that irritated me more than anything!

  2. April Munday says:

    Michael Innes is a name I haven’t come across in years. This sounds like a bit of a parody of Agatha Christie. I’m already asking myself how there can be a night in a haystack when there’s enough snow on the ground to make a snowdrift.

    • Helen says:

      That’s probably the sort of question you’re not supposed to ask! I find Michael Innes’ books quite different from Christie’s, but as they were writing at the same time I expect she may have been an influence.

      • April Munday says:

        You talked me into it. I’ve just downloaded the first Inspector Appleby book. The thirties was the Golden Age of British crime novels and I don’t think I’ve read any of Innes’ books.

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