MICHAEL INNES – The Daffodil Affair.

Victor Gollancz, UK, hardcover 1942. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1942. Reprinted several times, including the following: Berkley F925, June 1964; Penguin, several editions, both in the UK and the US.

MICHAEL INNES The Daffodil Affair

   You might want to go back and read my review of Innes’s Seven Suspects first, as I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that that book is a lot more representative of both Michael Innes and Inspector John Appleby than The Daffodil Affair is, and by a long shot — by factor of, in fact, say several thousand times or so.

   I have to stop and tell you the truth right here, before going on any farther. I have never read a mystery or detective story that is ANYTHING like this one. In terms of being unique, this one’s the ultimate in uniqueness.

   Have I intrigued you? I hope not, because my intention at this point is NOT to convince you to read this book. I don’t intend to have you NOT read it either. You do need to know, perhaps, what’s in store for you if you read this book, and well, I’ll do my best.

   I’ll start, though, with a long passage from page 89 of the Penguin edition. The setting is both heading down a river [the Amazon?] to a secret encampment where a man named Wine is making a collection of animals, people and even inanimate objects with psychic powers:

MICHAEL INNES The Daffodil Affair

    The night was dark, and Appleby blinked into it. Hudspith [Appleby’s colleague, also from Scotland Yard] bubbling with the raffish idiom of the nineteen hundreds was a mildly surprising phenomenon. But then, so, and in an equally dated away, were a calculating horse [named Daffodil] and an Italian medium specializing in materializations.

    A witch and a girl possesed by demons [named Lucy, her demons being her multiple personalities] were exhibits more ‘period’ still.

    In fact — said Appleby to himself as he paced the blacked-out deck once more — this ship has the nineteen-forties dead astern and is heading for the past at its full economic speed of eighteen knots. The Time Ship: master, Emery Wine [the man who has kidnapped all of the above, all with psychic abilities, not including Appleby and Hudspith]. It sounded like H. G. Wells… He took several turns about the deck and returned to the smoke-room.

    Hudspith’s voice greeted him as he entered. […]

    Hudspith, though still talking defiantly, was looking at the silent Wine and Beaglehole [Wine’s assistant in crime] with an occasional furtive sideways glance — as a man may do who is presently going to realize that he has been making a fool of himself. ‘There was a girl in London,’ said Hudspith, raising his voice with a sort of desperate and fading arrogance. ‘Just a few months ago. Lucy, her name was…’

    Rather abruptly Appleby plumped down on a settee. Perhaps he had been dull. Certainly he had not realized it was all heading for this.

MICHAEL INNES The Daffodil Affair

   The book, written during the darkest days of World War II, is perhaps (I am not quite sure) a reaction to Science, which had at that time nearly brought England to its knees — very dark days indeed. Can the uncanny also move the world? Wine soon intends to try.

   Here’s another long quote, this time from page 177. Appleby and Hudspith are essentially prisoners somewhere on an island in South America. Hudspith speaks first. (I’ll leave out one key, essential part, but I think you may find the rest amusing)

    ‘How many people would you say have written detective stories?’

    Appleby yawned. ‘Hundreds, I should imagine.’

    ‘Quite so – and some of them have written scores of books. Folk with intelligences ranging from moderate through good to excellent. A couple of women are quite excellent; there’s no other word for them.’

    ‘Is that so? I say, Hudspith, it must be deuced late.’

    ‘And, what would you say those hundreds of folk are constantly after?’

    ‘Money.’ Appleby’s voice, if sleepy, was decided.

    ‘They’re constantly after a really original motive for murder. And here one is. […] It’s a genuinely new motive, and none of them has ever thought of it.’

    ‘Probably someone has. You just haven’t read that particular yarn. Good night.’

    ‘But I haven’t explained what I mean. About waste that is.’ Hudspith’s voice continued to come laboriously out of the night. ‘Here is a perfect detective-story motive, and yet we’re not in a detective story at all.’

    ‘My dear man, you’re talking like something in Pirandello. Go to sleep.’

    ‘We’re in a sort of hodge-podge of fantasy and harumscarum adventure that isn’t a proper detective story at all. We might be by Michael Innes.’

MICHAEL INNES The Daffodil Affair

    ‘Innes? I’ve never heard of him.’ Appleby spoke with decided exasperation. ‘You might employ your last hours more profitably than in chatter about the underworld of letters. Go to sleep. Go to sleep and dream of the nice boiled egg they send to the condemned cell on the fatal morning.’

    Hudspith sighed and for a time was silent. ‘It’s all very well rotting,’ he said at length. ‘But about this idea of Lucy’s — do you think it will work?’

    Silence answered him.

   Bear with me. Here’s the last of the quoting I’ll be doing. I’ll also let it be the end of this review. If at the end you still want to read the book, I’ll allow you, but keep in mind, the decision is yours. This passage comes from page 43, when Daffodil was still a key component of the story. Appleby has found Mr Gee at the livery stable from which the horse has been stolen:

    ‘Mr Gee,’ he parried, did it never occur to you that these peculiar powers made Daffodil an unusually valuable horse? Imagine the thing in a circus. Members of the audience are invited to come up, hold Daffodil by the bridle and think of a number. And then Daffodil taps it out. The trick would make any showman’s fortune.’

    ‘It so happens,’ said Mr Gee with dignity, that I’m not a showman. But if Daffodil is valuable the way you suggest, then you know something about them in whose hands he was before. They weren’t show people, or they wouldn’t have let him go.’

    Appleby got up. ‘Mr Gee, you ought to have taken to my profession.’

    There’s compliments you can return,’ said Mr Gee, ‘and there’s compliments you can’t.’