Friday’s Forgotten Book: There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes

There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes (Victor Gollancz, 1940) is the sixth mystery with Inspector John Appleby, who doesn’t appear in this mannered story of an upper class family until almost midway. The tale is told from the perspective of Arthur Ferryman, a successful novelist, who loves Belrive Priory, the family estate in northern England, more than anyone else. 

Christmas is approaching and the family converges on Belrive, a gorgeous property with a mansion, large park, and medieval ruins. The rest of the visiting family is banker Wilfred, headmaster Cecil, father and son portrait painters Hubert and Geoffrey, mystery writer Lucy, and poetry reviewer Anne. The exquisite setting is marred, however, by a cotton mill on one side, a busy highway on another, and a brewery on another. The night view, which should be moonlit or nearly completely dark, is instead one of an enormous animated electrical sign that advertises the brewery’s wares.

In addition to these changes around the estate, Arthur is alarmed to find upon his arrival that his cousin Basil, the seventh Baronet of Belrive Priory, has built a shooting range on the grounds and that all of the family has armed themselves with pistols to try it out. Most of them have no experience with guns and little skill, resulting in shots that go wildly astray.

An even greater cause for dismay is learning that cousin Basil intends to sell the priory to the brewer in order to fund an expedition to the Antarctic. The gathering was largely to tell the family of his decision and to celebrate one last Christmas in the mansion. It also marked the event of Basil and his nephew Wilfrid speaking for the first time in more than 10 years. No one knows the cause of their original disagreement and no one seems likely to find out now.

The family is scattered throughout the house and grounds during the hour before dinner, i.e., no one has an alibi, when Wilfrid is shot in Basil’s study. The discovery is made just before Inspector Appleby presents himself as an invited dinner guest. The local police are delighted to hand the problem off to a representative of Scotland Yard, not wanting to arrest a member of the prominent family.

Appleby wonders if Wilfrid was mistakenly shot instead of Basil. The entire family treats each other with faint malice and a case can be made for the shooting of either Basil or Wilfrid by one family member or another. Appleby worries about Basil’s safety until a culprit can be identified.

A classic drawing room gathering of all the suspects takes place with the case against each of them outlined. The actual resolution however strains credulity. An interesting read but not one of Appleby’s strongest cases.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes

Michael Innes (1906-1994) was the pen name used by John Innes Mackintosh Stewart to write around 50 mystery novels and collections of mystery short stories. He published contemporary fiction and literary criticism under his given name. He released around 35 books about Sir John Appleby of Scotland Yard between 1936 and 1987.

Appleby’s Answer (Dodd, Mead, 1973) is a blatant send-up of lady crime fiction writers, country squires, retired military officers, and other stock characters who often appear in the works of English crime fiction. There is no mystery to speak of, and a goat figures prominently in the final chapters. I found it an entertaining, although antic, read after I stopped waiting for the mystery to appear.

Miss Priscilla Pringle, a modestly successful author of such titles as Vengeance at the Vicarage and Revenge at the Rectory, is pleased to note that the gentleman sharing her train compartment is reading one of her books (Murder in the Cathedral). He recognizes her from the jacket photo and embarks on an increasingly odd conversation, suggesting that the two of them collaborate on a mystery that she will publish under both their names. Captain Bulkington, it seems, is willing to pay £500 to see his name on the cover of a book.

For unclear reasons, Miss Pringle is intrigued by the peculiar conversation and agrees to discuss literary possibilities with the retired military officer by phone, declining to meet him in person. She does visit his village to gather information about him, not a particularly wise thing to do, as the town is far too small for her to escape his notice. This visit contains one of the best scenes in the book, in which the rector announces one hymn number during matins and the order of service another one. Half of the participants in the service sing one song while the other half sing the second. A soundtrack of this event would be wonderful.

Sir John Appleby and his wife Judith are visiting friends in the area and they are pulled into an investigation by the local police on the thinnest of pretexts, in which they meet the captain and the young men he is supposedly prepping for entrance into a military academy, and questions about the death of the previous vicar arise.

This is an amusing read, although not a particularly satisfying mystery. Earlier books in the Appleby series are better in that regard.