The Mysterious Commission – Michael Innes

I love it when the main character’s an artist. (Except when it hurts a lot, of course; that is the life I wanted. For some reason this didn’t hurt, even though one of my dreams was to paint portraits like the hero.) Charles Honeybath is a renowned portrait painter – anyone who is anyone has their portrait made by Honeybath – but in the economy at the time of the book’s setting (which could be today’s) portraiture is a luxury many are putting off till more bullish times. While Honeybath is not worried about his next meal as yet, he is feeling a bit of a pinch … so when a not-quite-gentleman calling himself Peach shows up at his studio one day offering him a Mysterious Commission, for which Honeybath is amazed to discover he can demand nearly twice his usual rate, Our Hero finds it difficult to refuse. Despite the fact that the details are so very mysterious – he cannot know the name of his subject, and in fact, to his dismay, he is told (after agreeing) that he will be taken to an undisclosed location where he will remain until the painting is done.

Still, the money is awfully good – and as it turns out, so is the subject and the portrait thereof – and Honeybath is relatively willing. It’s when the painting is finished and he is on his way home that things really get strange. And dangerous.

I don’t know as this really and truly rates four stars; it was fun, and it was well written, and it kept me interested and engaged and amused by the painting details. It also kept me confused along with Honeybath, which was, I believe, one of the author’s aims. It was funny, and fun, and smart, and (as I mentioned well-crafted (although the slang scattered throughout felt a little like rough spots that needed smoothing out), and Honeybath as the artist hero was lovely. Innes knew a bit about art, and it shows. The police, once they get involved, are not the dimwitted bunch Honeybath and I half expected them to be, and the criminals are garden variety thugs nor (thank goodness) part of an international conspiracy. The ending of the story may be a bit too pat and tidy – but, yes, all in all, I think I will stand on the four stars. It was very good at being what it was.

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