Something is rotten at Scamnum Court. The noble English estate is hosting a large house party in order to produce an amateur performance of Hamlet, but things go wrong almost immediately when cryptic threats — some of them taken from the text of Hamlet itself — are delivered to various houseguests. Then Lord Auldearn, a guest who also happens to be the Lord Chancellor of England, is murdered onstage during opening night. The sheer audacity of the murder makes it particularly hard to solve; although the scene of the crime was packed with actors and spectators, it appears that no one saw a thing. Also, there is no shortage of suspects or possible reasons for the crime. Was Lord Auldearn murdered for the confidential state papers in his possession, or was the motive more personal? Inspector Appleby of Scotland Yard must unravel this complex case and discover a diabolically clever murderer.
I have to confess that I spent most of this book being completely bewildered. There were so many characters to keep track of, and I wasn’t sure who would turn out to be important to the plot, so I exhausted myself trying to keep tabs on everyone! This is also a very cerebral mystery; most of the “action” is conversations between Inspector Appleby and his friend Giles Gott. However, I definitely enjoyed the book more as I got further into it, and the ultimate solution was both ingenious and unexpected. I would definitely recommend having read Hamlet, or at least being familiar with the plot, before reading this book; otherwise many of the allusions and plot twists will be very obscure. Overall, I’m not sure this is quite “my kind” of book, but I did enjoy it and would consider reading more by Innes. There’s a whole series featuring Inspector Appleby, and this book is #2, but I was able to follow everything without having read the first book.