The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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September 17, 2011

The Ampersand Papers

'It seems, Sir John, that he departed from that pub almost as soon as he'd got back to it. We'd taken his statement, of course, for what it seemed worth. But we'll put him back on our list again.' Inspector Craig opened his notebook at last. 'And now, sir, may I tell you everything I've gathered?'
      'Another half-pint of the cider, and go ahead.'
      And in the most orderly way, Craig proceeded to tell Appleby much -- but not all -- that the reader already knows about the Ampersands and their concerns.
It's funny to think of The Ampersand Papers as being a Golden Age mystery, since it was published in 1978, but it has the same not-quite-definable appeal of Dorothy L. Sayers/Agatha Christie/Ngaio Marsh and other writers of that time, and some likable quirks of its own. I've been enjoying the humor couched in highbrow seriousness, the character names (Lord Ampersand, Lord Skillet, a family of Digitts, and Mr. Cave, the mysterious cave-explorer), and the words that I might need a dictionary for {recondite, interdigitate} if I wanted to stop reading long enough to look them up, which I didn't. There are only some hints and whispers about who Sir John Appleby is {someone formerly high-ranking, or even highest-ranking, in Scotland Yard, but now retired, and famous enough to be recognized by the butler), his personality {intuitive, well-spoken, on the serious side}, and his nicely snarky wife, but maybe that's because this seems to be about the 20th book in the series and everyone else who read it probably already knew all that. :)

After being plagued by insistent scholars who want to visit Treskinnick Castle to learn about ancestors who 'had hobnobbed, if only casually, with half a dozen major English writers or artists, and countless minor ones,' Lord Ampersand and his son, Lord Skillet (a.k.a. Archie Digitt), decide to move the family papers {along with some stuffed stags and a dinghy} into the top floor of an ancient tower reachable only by a rickety wooden staircase, and to have a card engraved:

Lord Ampersand takes pleasure in intimating that the Muniment Room at Treskinnick Castle will in future be open on the first Thursday of every month between the hours of two and fve of the clock in the afternoon.
Railway station:  Lesnewth, 15 miles
Afternoon tea, in the Old Stables:  60p

But when Lady Ampersand learns that some of the papers might be valuable, Lord Skillet engages a researcher, Dr. Sutch, to examine and catalog them.  Appleby, finding himself  'inconveniently early' as he is driving to St. Ives to visit some friends, just happens to taking a walk on the beach below the tower when the archivist falls to his death from that rickety staircase.

'But it is my point that Sutch was a most undesirable person, who has ended by occasioning us very considerable embarrassment, That wretched staircase was undoubtedly in very poor repair -- but Sutch, nevertheless, must have been uncommonly careless on it. It was thoughtful of him, to say the least. My father will be most distressed if unfavorable comment is passed on that situation at, say, the inquest. I shall speak to the coroner about it, beforehand, and have no doubt that he will be discreet.'
      'It is a pleasant confidence to have, Lady Grace.'
From this first, random taste, I've found out that Michael Innes is a lot of fun to read, and I'll definitely look for more Applebys.


Kailana said...

I have never heard of this author before. I will have to look into it.

Eva said...

This sounds wonderful! I love Golden Age mysteries, so I'm putting this on my wishlist. :)

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