Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Old Hall, New Hall (1956) by Michael Innes

Noseless himself, he brings here noseless blocks,
To show what time has wrought and what the pox.

Ignoring S. S. Van Dine, Innes would devise a mystery without a corpse whenever he could. This is one of them, except there is a corpse in it, in a twist that Chesterton would not have disowned. But the story is not one of detection, being instead centred on a treasure hunt. It breaks another major Van Dine rule, of course, - the one that everybody breaks. The way the protagonist's perception of his love interest changes over the course of the book is not unsubtly drawn, though Innes remains ultimately loyal to his underachieving philosophy. Much of the story is brisk and pleasant, but it bogs down in the middle with a series of long letters from a lady who lived in the first half of the XIX Century: a sort of Jane Austen pastiche, presumably quite well done because as mind-bogglingly tedious as the original. At one point, though, the lady amusingly mentions her brother who's travelling in the Caucasus, in the environs of Ordzhonikidze. But that is not enough to offset phrases like It was at this point that I began - and that with some indignation - to smoke the Duke of Nesfield. The modern part has some better compensations: a couple of typically eccentric academics and the protagonist's novel in the manner of Kafka, called The Examination, in which the main character, C., is unable to discover whether he is the examiner or the examined.

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