MICHAEL INNES – Appleby and the Ospreys. Sir John Appleby #35. Victor Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1986. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1987. Penguin, US, paperback, 1988.

   Sir John Appleby has been comfortably retired from Scotland Yard for some short period of time as this book begins, and while he takes up the reins of the ensuing investigation with zest, it was as it turned out, his very last case. With some small quibbles, it’s a fitting end to Sir John’s career in print that began way back in 1936, over 50 years earlier, right in the middle of the Golden Age of Detection.

   Dead is Lord Osprey, stabbed to death in his library overnight. His home, a pile of a house called Clusters, is full of possible suspects, but there is also the matter of the stranger seen outside through a window before the previous evening’s dinner. Was it as inside job at all, or was the proverbial passing tramp?

   A possible motive is the dead man’s valuable coin collection, but strangely enough it is impossible to know whether it is even missing: the dead man kept its location in the huge manor house a closely guarded secret.

   Michael Innes was perhaps the most erudite mystery writer of them all, and his slightly sardonic and mocking wit makes this adventure a great deal of fun to read. Paradoxically, however, it can also provide a stumbling block to quick and easy reading, especially in the early going. Once the investigation begins in earnest, such a quibble, if it is one, gradually fades away.

   Complicating matters is the matter of the local tavern owner’s daughter, whose virtue is claimed to have been sullied by the dead man. To present day readers it may seem as though Appleby and Inspector Ringwood, whom he is assisting, take these charges less seriously than they might do today. (I don’t know if this is a quibble or not.)

   A larger one is that, in spite of the length of the investigation — which truthfully does not sag in the middle as many such investigations do — the case is wrapped up rather quickly toward the end, and maybe even a little too incongruously, depending on your own feeling toward such things. It mattered little to me. I enjoyed it, this one last great blast from the past.