Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Comedy of Terrors

A Comedy of Terrors by Michael Innes (1st published 1940) is another of my vintage mysteries. I always look forward to reading a Innes novel. His writing is a little off-beat and humorous, but almost always smooth and satisfying. When I opened up A Comedy of Terrors, I was beginning to think I had picked up the wrong book. This has one of the slowest, most convoluted opening chapters of any Innes novel I've read so far. Fortunately I hung in there and in chapter two he righted himself and we were well on our way.

A Comedy of Terrors is the story of a reunion of the Foxcroft family. They have returned to their country estate for the holidays. Some have come to reconcile feuds; some out of curiosity about inheritance. They are a witty and talented family, full of artists and authors and full of eccentricities and schemes. They all have been given pistols so they can join in on Sir Basil's newest hobby--target shooting. But the party turns somber when it seems that someone has decided that Wilfred Foxcroft would make a much better target. Given the setting and the similarity in features among the male family members, there is soon some doubt whether Wilfred was the intended victim after all. Was the intended target really Sir Basil? Or maybe it was Cecil Foxcroft, Wilfred's brother. Motives and alibis become tangled and soon it becomes apparent that only detective inspector John Appleby will be able to untangle it all.

In addition to the opening chapter, this novel went out of the Innes norm in another way. The story is told in the first person by one of the members of the Foxcroft family. Innes normally employs the omniscient narrator for his John Appleby mysteries. So, it is a little unusual to read the story strictly from the point of view of Arthur Ferryman (cousin to the Foxcroft family). Over all, this was an enjoyable vintage mystery. Perhaps a bit more convoluted than most of Innes's novels. And the twist at the end is very surprising...I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing. Three stars out of five.

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