Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: A NIGHT OF ERRORS (1947) by Michael Innes.

Friday's Forgotten Books is the weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. Each week a bunch of bloggers seek to remind you of books that have been swept aside with the passage of time. Don't forget to check in at Patti's and see what other books other bloggers are chatting about today.

I've slowly been reading the Michael Innes/Inspector Appleby canon as the books come my way. Recently, Les Blatt at his wonderful blog of vintage reads, CLASSIC MYSTERIES, recommended NIGHT OF ERRORS and I realized I had the book and for whatever reason I'd never read it. I thought I had, but Les's review told me differently.

The story is exactly what the title promises, a night of errors including murder, chicanery, secrets revealed and triplets run amok. Well, the triplets run amok is not entirely accurate, but it's  fun to write it that way. It's pretty evident going in that the Dromio family biological habit of giving birth to triplets is an ominous one. Innes reveals that much in a bleak prologue of madness and fire in which two of the triplet babies meet their doom. Or do they?

Forty years later, old secrets come back to haunt the present day Lady Dromio - the mother of those ill-fated triplets - living at the family seat, Sherris Hall with her one remaining son, Oliver (currently traveling in America and due back any moment) and step-daughter Lucy, an odd and discontented young woman

Shortly after the current baronet, Oliver Dromio (returned under cover of night) is found murdered in the study at Sherris Hall, and the local police are called,  Sebastian Dromio (the uncle who lives nearby), apparently shoots Grubb, the gardener, dead while in a drunken rage. All in full view of the unarmed police, I might add. They're out and about in the darkness, first looking for clues, then trying to catch old Sebastian who, in the great family tradition, seems to have run amok. But wait I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. The dead gardener happens later once the police have shown up.

Inspector Appleby (retired since his marriage - but a cop is always a cop, don't you think?) who is in the neighborhood has been immediately called in.

"Would you care to come and take a look at something?" said the voice.

Appleby glanced at the clock. "My dear man, it's nearly midnight."

"Quite so. But that's when these things are apt to happen. Of course - " and the voice took on the faint irony of the bachelor - "if your wife _"

"Judith's away visiting her people at Long Dream. When what things are apt to happen?"

"Murder." The voice spoke in plain triumph. "Murder most foul, as at the best it is -"

"Good heavens, Hyland, don't tell me you've taken to Shakespeare."

"Well, haven't you taken to bees? The force must keep its cultural end up, you know. But this most foul and, strange and unnatural."

"Why unnatural?"

"Look here," said the voice most unfairly, "you're simply wasting time. Will you come? It's a baronet."

"No, no, Hyland - it won't do. I've had my fill of murdered baronets - and especially at midnight, as you say. The annals of the Yard are glutted with them. It was hard at times to believe that any could be left alive in England. For you must add, you know, all those we were obliged to hang..."

But of course, Appleby is soon on the case.

A NIGHT OF ERRORS is the book that introduces us to one of the most nefarious and unpleasant butlers you will ever meet, the vile Swindle, an old family retainer who should have been forcibly put out to pasture years ago. But, Lady Dromio avoids unpleasantness and Swindle is still tottering about the estate, making himself as obnoxious as humanly possible.

In fact, the only likable characters in this story of family turmoil and murder appear to be Appleby, local Inspector Hyland and Mr. Greengrave, the rector.

I love a good story about a family of once rich nobles who've come down in the world and begun murdering their own. (Not so noble really, baronets are at the bottom of the aristocratic food chain, but still, it's a title and in this case, inherited.)

As usual, being a Michael Innes story, there are confusing clues, plotlines, theories, language and other assorted misleading tidbits, but all in all, an enjoyable book. Innes is not for the faint of heart.


  1. Have read a couple of books lately that feature unpleasant families. Not a very wholesome experience.:)Don't think I've read this one of Innes.

  2. A butler named Swindle? Could anyone improve on that?

    Rich, decadent nobles who murder their own? Sounds like a poorer version of Henry the Eighth -- or other kings of England and elsewhere.

    Just another day at the baron's.

  3. neer: Well, this story, like many of Michael Innes' books is over the top. But that's the attraction I think, when reading this sort of thing. :)

  4. Kathy: Well, as I mentioned to neer, over the top is why we go to Innes. :)

    Yeah, Swindle. Love it. Remember my post on butlers?

    Just another day at the baron's. HAHA!!!

  5. Sounds interesting, and since I haven't read any of Innes' books, I may have to give it a try.

  6. Yvette, you had me at "triplets run amok," even if it's not 100% accurate! :-) A NIGHT OF ERRORS certainly sounds worth a read; goodness knows I've read my share of entertainingly convoluted mysteries (heck, I'm writing and polishing not one but two such books myself). Thanks for the tip!

  7. jenclair: It's a lot of devious fun. I recommend THE SECRET VANGUARD too, it's my favorite Innes.

  8. Dorian: You are tantalizing me with your hints about your new book. :)

    I think you'd love this Innes book.

  9. I do remember your post on butlers. It was lots of fun.

    But Swindle? That author has a sense of humor.

  10. Kathy: Innes is full of wicked humor. :)

  11. As an old English major, Yvette, I'd point out to other English majors that a familiarity with Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" provides a lot of Innes's tongue-in-cheek backstory (as references to the "Dromios" would suggest). And I agree - Swindle is one of the funniest (and most vile, as you say) butler characters in any novel I've read. Again, this wouldn't be my choice for someone new to Innes - I still recommend LAMENT FOR A MAKER, which is my favorite - but it is very,very good.

  12. Les: I wish I were more learned then I could quickly 'get' Innes' allusions instead of just stumbling through. :) I still recommend THE SECRET VANGUARD which was my first foray into Innes' work. Can't help it, Les, I love that book.

  13. Nothing wrong with SECRET VANGUARD either, Yvette. As for "The Comedy of Errors," it deals with the misadventures of twin brothers (named Antipholus) and their twin servants - named Dromio. Which is where, Innes implies strongly, the family in his book must have originated... (Helps that I have a complete Shakespeare open in front of me as I write this...sigh... ;-)

  14. Now I get the name thing. Okay, understood. Thanks, Les.

    And the Dromios were okay with twins, it's when they began having triplets that everything went wrong. What a concept. Ha!


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