Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Long Farewell: Review

Sir John Appleby, Inspector at Scotland Yard, is on holiday in Italy and decides to stop in and see an acquaintance who is also abroad.  Lewis Packford is a well-known, if flamboyant, Elizabethan
scholar with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare at the most interesting moments.  Packford often puts together spectacular discoveries and springs them on his colleagues with much glee--sometimes with hints and portents beforehand and sometimes all at once.  Appleby's conversation with Packford at the Italian villa would seem to indicate that another such literary bombshell is about to drop.

When he returns to England, Packford invites several of his colleagues to his country house--presumably with a view to impressing them with his latest bit of scholarship. But before Packford can produce his most recent surprise, a shot rings out in the library and he is found dead with a brief note written in his own hand beside him.  The note reads: Farewell, a long farewell.  A Shakespearean reference which is taken to be an apt suicide note for such a scholar.  The police are satisfied with the suicide verdict--particularly since Packford had just been exposed as a bigamist.  But Packford's solicitor is not and, when the solicitor brings the matter to Appleby's attention, neither is Appleby.

Appleby's investigates and finds that Packford had apparently acquired a rare book purportedly annotated by William Shakespeare.  The scholars and bibliophiles who make up the house party (and who are still present well after the funeral is over) might have killed to get their hands on the precious book.  One of Packford's wives may have killed him in a fit of passion.  And then there's Packford's brother--who inherits the family home.  It's up to Appleby to figure out who was desperate enough to shoot the Shakespearean scholar.

I do love the academic mysteries--particularly when there are dotty dons littering the landscape. We've got several here--and they are being as eccentric and inscrutable as one could wish.  On top of that there are some fine red herrings, interesting conversations, and a midnight farce in the library. Four stars.

"Canon Rixon is Librarian to the Chapter at Barchester. At least I think it is Barchester. But there is no doubt  as to his occupation.  I have always found it to be one conducing to a singular depravity both of intellect and morals. And I am confident you agree with me. There may be meritorious exceptions. But as a class of persons they are wholly to be deplored." [Professor Prodger]
"Cathedral librarians?" It seemed to Appleby that it would be hard to think up a more blameless walk of life. (p. 72)

She seemed, too, to have a considerable capacity for disapproving of people. (p. 96)

It's certainly true that a joke often represents the bringing out for an airing of something slightly disreputable or risky. The joke-element is a sort of disguise. (Sir John Appleby; p. 109)

It is often, after all, inhibited and highly cerebral types that surprisingly fly off the handle. (p. 112)

And don't quote Henry James at me.  It isn't seemly in a policeman. (Professor Rushout; p. 148)

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