Sunday, February 09, 2020

13. Appleby's Other Story by Michael Innes

Michael Innes has been lurking around the periphery of my book reading for all my life, but I have never read him (nor have I read Hammond Innes, either for that matter).  I found this one on the free shelf up on St-Viateur (it's really been quite productive, that shelf).

I could see right away why his books are so ubiquitous.  He is an entertaining writer for fans of the educated British writing style.  It begins with Appleby, whom I guess is his detective in a long series of mysteries, driving with the local country Chief Constable to a country estate for a social visit.  The first few pages have references to classical poetry, latin quotations and deft observations of class and character, all in a rich vocabulary and indirect sentence structure.  There has to be a better word than indirect here.  This is the kind of book that you would not recommend to a reader for whom english was a second language.  Even for me, I had to reread many of the sentences to understand what he was trying to say.  It's fun, though, and quite clever.  There are a few really solid moments inside the ornate writing that are made even stronger because of the style of the writing.  Here, the detective is in the rather dingy pub where he initially had gotten surly service from the man at the bar.  After a fruitful conversation with one of the witnesses, he returns to the barman:
Appleby resolved to investigate.  He got to his feet and walked over to the bar.  A detached observer might have remarked in him a somewhat ominous gathering of authority as he moved.  The taciturn and discontented publican, who was disdainfully puddling glasses in an invisible sink of what was doubtless dirty water glanced at him with a new wariness as he approached.
I was a bit less pleased with the mystery itself.  The plot is that when they arrive, they find the lord of the manor shot dead in his study and a small house party of potential suspects, including a wayward son, a parasitical nephew, an over-efficient secretary, a dishonest London art dealer, a second wife and her lover, the murdered man's own mistress and finally a butler with a rough edge.  It's a nice setup but too much of the backstory is delayed simply because Appleby takes his time to talk to the witnesses.  It is a nice touch that he is retired and starts out trying to avoid getting involved and his expertise is thoroughly enjoyable.  The twist itself was also a bit convoluted, involving geography in the house that I never could have figured out through the reading (though this could have been my own lack of attention to detail).

Overall, though, I am glad to have read and been made aware of Innes' qualities.  I would like to find an earlier Appleby story when he was still on the force.

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