Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Money from Holme (1964) by Michael Innes

Innes at his most frivolous reminds me of a gleeful schoolboy bubbling with laughter at perpetrating a particularly clever prank. In an interesting mirror effect, the main character in this book is also like just such a schoolboy, except prone to extreme nastiness. In other words, the author's Shadow. Some of the racist language, purporting to be the character's unvoiced sentiments, must have already been jarring to many in 1964. Even Christie had stopped using the n-word by that time (she uses blacks in A Caribbean Mystery in the same year), and I doubt that she ever reflected on 'them' being hardly very different from monkeys (in the hilarious context of internal strife between rival African factions). In fact, it appears that the black mischief was one of Innes's recurring motifs, along with switched identities and returns from the dead. Even Waugh couldn't be funnier on the subject. Another recurring theme is, of course, painting, and Braunkopf is once again a major character, making it difficult for the reader to avoid lapsing into his peculiar idiom for a while. But the most curious aspect of the book is a marked similarity of certain plot points to the whole Derwatt affair in Patricia Highsmith's Ripley Underground (1970).

The ending is rushed, as not infrequently with Innes, and slightly mars what could have been a masterpiece of literary roguery.

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