Michael Innes and The Gay Phoenix

Gay Phoenix

If it were up to me, I would read only mystery fiction from The Golden Age. I’ve read almost every Golden Age mystery I can find. I’ve seen some obscure ones in my recommendations on Amazon and I’ve read one or two.

Years ago, while living in Muscatine, IA and being BORED to death staying at home with a 7-month-old, I searched out my favorite place in every town – the library. I came upon Michael Innes’ works then and luckily the library had most of them.

I love finding an author with many titles under their belt. Especially when I love the style and the writing. Of all of Innes’ Inspector Appleby mysteries, only Death at the President’s Lodge was ponderous. I found the same to be true of a couple of Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. That hasn’t stopped me though, reading whatever I can get my hands on.

Yesterday I finished The Gay Phoenix, which I had previously read.

I often find that in the re-reading, I notice and absorb more of the flavor of the book. The ingenious plot of The Gay Phoenix and its denouement is fascinating.

The book begins with two brothers on a yacht somewhere in the ocean closest to Australia. It starts after a particularly ferocious storm during which one of the brother’s head is pierced by a mast. Naturally he’s dead. The remaining brother, who knows who he is at this point, is forced to continue his journey without his brother and without serious parts of the yacht.

The dead brother is a wealthy, unscrupulous businessman. The younger brother is just as unscrupulous but not as wealthy. He forms a plan, based upon their general likeness, to exchange identities with his brother, thereby acquiring the fortune and making his life a bit easier. He knew there was no chance his brother had bequeathed him his estate, having been told so previously.

It isn’t at all clear why the two brothers are on this journey at all. They do not like each other and never have. Once past this conundrum, the plot is fantastic.

Replacing a dead sibling when you are only somewhat like him proves to be more difficult than at first the younger brother thought. Although not particularly social, the older brother did have business acquaintances and several mistresses that Arthur was going to occasionally meet.

After many months, the younger brother ended up in Adelaide. He was ill and appeared to be disoriented. He did not claim to be his wealthy brother – but instead claimed to be himself, Arthur, the younger brother. The doctors at the hospital were sure he was who he said he was until one of them decided to get the medical records of both brothers. It seems the wealthy brother, Charles, had the index finger of his left hand missing. As the patient also had this feature, the hospital determined him to be delusional in thinking that he was Arthur. While visiting Adelaide and dining with one of these doctors, Inspector Appleby was treated to this story with the names changed. He thought it was curious and he was also skeptical as to its truth.

After many counseling sessions and assurances from the doctors, Arthur came out of his delusions and accepted the fact that he was truly Charles. He was sent on his way, after being entertained by the Governor General and other worthies in Adelaide.

His first test came, not from Charles’ connections, but from his own boyhood conspirator, a servant named Butter who recognized him as Arthur and refused all rebuff. Butter, being of a criminal nature, recognized the benefit to him in keeping Arthur under his thumb and joining into partnership with him. One extra person to share Charles’ wealth didn’t present too big a compromise to Arthur.

Butter quickly installed Arthur at the family home, coincidentally in the locale of Inspector Appleby’s wife’s ancestral home.  Appleby soon gets the gist of the connection between the story he’d heard months before and the new arrivals in his neighborhood. The reader is treated to not only Appleby’s deductive powers, but the ramblings of Arthur/Charles and the extreme complications he faces.

No blood, no gore and only a little sex, this is a highly recommended title if you are at all fascinated by a cerebral crime.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jennifer says:

    I keep re-reading them – I just love this stuff.


  2. suth2 says:

    I read many Ngaio Marsh books, many years ago. probably worth a revisit.


  3. Jennifer says:

    There are several where Appleby travels to Australia. Have you read any Ngaio Marsh? She (being from New Zealand) has several where Roderick Alleyn is New Zealand too. I love Colour Scheme – which is very dark and scary. It’s set somewhere near natural mud-baths. It’s not Australia but it’s extremely good. I love the old authors!


  4. suth2 says:

    I’ll have to get this one Jen, particularly as it has links to Australia.


  5. I also enjoy finding authors who have long series:) I’m not into mysteries but this one sounds interesting. I have never reread a book because I have so many I haven’t read yet. The pile keeps growing as I spend time doing other things. LOL One of these days, right?


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