Wednesday, 27 June 2001

Michael Innes: The Daffodil Affair (1942)

Edition: Penguin, 1983
Review number: 850

Michael Innes' novels are frequently silly, as they combine parody of the absurdities of crime and thriller novels with a sure grasp of how to write an excellent story in one of these genres. The Daffodil Affair may well be the silliest of the lot.

The crime Appleby is set to investigate is not the sort of thing that Scotland Yard would generally bother with, particularly during the War - the theft of a broken down cab horse named Daffodil in Harrogate - except that the Assistant Commissioner has a sister whose favourite cab horse is Daffodil. This crime is linked to several other bizarre disappearances, including the theft of a reputedly haunted hose in Bloomsbury (demolished bit by bit, it is at first assumed to be a victim of the Blitz). The search leads to a trip to South America, which in the story's wartime context is extremely unlikely, while Appleby tries to work out what links the missing items and people.

Rather unusually for Innes, there are problems with the construction of the plot of The Daffodil Affair. The climax comes with a bizarre fake birthday party in Appleby's honour, which takes place one night on the ship on the way to South America. Even though we do not then know the whole of what is going on, the rest of the novel feels like a bit of an afterthought.

The ludicrous nature of the crime is what makes The Daffodil Affair different from the run of crime fiction, and it brings in the humour important in so many of Innes' novels. It also makes it more memorable than some of his more accomplished stories.

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