Colonel Ffolliot Petticate's wife, the romance novelist Sonia Wayward, dies of a heart attack while sailing with her husband in the English Channel. They're the only two aboard the yacht and as the good Colonel puts it, "here is a facer or a rum go." The protagonist's name is a good indicator that he would say something like this upon the death of his wife. His upper lip is so stiff it probably clacks against his dentures.
Colonel Petticate gives his wife a rather brusque heave-ho over the side of his yacht after a few words remembered from the Book of Common Prayer. Then he starts thinking about his financial situation, now that his sole source of income is sinking to the bottom of the English Channel.
Writing romances can't be that difficult. The good Colonel decides to refrain from reporting his wife's death and finish her current novel himself.
Oh, dear. I know from reading almost all of Michael Innes's novels that even a minor peccadillo like failing to report a death, or assuming someone else's identity will be ingeniously and horribly punished. Colonel Petticate begins to get into metaphorically deep water as soon as he comes ashore, wifeless, and visits Sonia's publisher. His predicament worsens on the train home, and again when he is ensconced in his manor house and least expecting more problems--this time from his butler, housekeeper, and prying neighbors.
Is this a case of the guilty fleeing when no man pursueth? Must Petticate meekly submit to innuendo, blackmail, and a stretch in Her Majesty's prisons for nothing more than burying his wife at sea and writing a book under a pseudonym?
Michael Innes has produced another urbane, but sharp-edged comedy-of-manners that had me commiserating with the poor Colonel. He seemed like a pompous, though basically decent sort whose decision not to report his wife's death ultimately leads him other criminal activities, including attempted murder.
"The New Sonia Wayward" (1960) is one of a handful of this author's non-series mysteries, similar in plot to "A Change of Heir" (1966). If you enjoy Michael Innes's (J.I.M. Stewart's) Appleby detective novels, you will definitely want to read this ironic comedy of errors.