Crime Fiction Alphabet: I is for Innes

I’m late, late, late!

There are two reasons.

The first was my difficulty in settling on a book.

First I picked up Death Wore a Diadem by Iona McGregor, a historical mystery published bt The Womens’ Press back in the 1980s. I made it through a few chapters and found a lot of feminism but not very much mystery. It could well get better, but I knew that I had another book for the letter I, and so I changed tack.

I picked up Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner: the first in a series of mysteries, with a bookseller caught up in a mystery at the World’s Fair in 1889. And I did like it, but I just wasn’t in the mood for Paris.

England and the golden age of crime writing called me. And I remembered Michael Innes. I read, and liked, one of his books a few years ago but I had never got round to reading another one. Surely it was time.

I picked up the first Inspector Appleby mystery, Death at the President’s Lodging.

And that’s the second reason why I’m late. I liked the book very much, but it did require slow and careful reading.

I knew from the opening paragraph what I could expect: a classic mystery, shot through with intelligence and wit.

“An academic life, Dr Johnson observed, puts one little in the way of extraordinary casualties. This was not the experience of the fellows and scholars of St Anthony’s College when they awoke one raw November morning to find their president, Josiah Umpleby, murdered in the night. The crime was at once intriguing and bizarre, efficient and theatrical. It was efficient and theatrical. It was efficient because nobody knew who had committed it. And it was theatrical because of  a macabre and unnecessary act of fantasy with which the criminal, it was quickly rumoured, accompanied his deed

It was such an elegant mystery. A man, indeed the top man, lay dead at the very heart of an Oxford College. And behind locked doors, so that suspicion fell on only a certain number of fellows.

Inspector Appleby was called in from Scotland Yard and Inspector Dodd, the local man, set out the facts for him very clearly.

As the investigation proceeded a very complex story began to unfold. There was little action, little drama, but much careful questioning, checking of alibis, and analysis of known facts.

It was a little quiet, but it was lovely to watch two professionals, with not one gimmick between then, working together. And the story was enlivened by the very well drawn fellows, each one of them desperate to throw suspicion on another.

A story full of details and subtleties, so that I had to read slowly and carefully, but it was very nice to linger.

I noticed that there was not one woman character, but that was right in that particular milieu, in that particular period.

And I wondered if the success grand dames of the golden age, Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh, might have had the unfortunate side effect of casting their male contemporaries. Because what I have read of Michael Innes and Anthony Berkeley suggests that they may well be just as worthy of acclaim …

This story held me to the very end, with lovely characterisation and fine plotting 

And it was a very good end. It was lovely to watch suspects being gradually eliminated  instead of the traditional dramatic finale with everyone still a suspect, and I appreciated that the identity of the murder was simply revealed to the remaining fellows, and the facts explained afterwards.

It took time and concentration to read Death at the President’s Lodging. I wouldn’t want to read like that all of the time but I shall definitely be doing it again.

The second book in the series – Hamlet, Revenge! – has such a wonderful title and the prospect of seeing Inspector Appleby investigating murder after a performance of that play at a country house is very enticing..


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, J is for … ?

8 responses

  1. There was an article this week on The American Culture exploring this idea of the forgotten Kings of the golden age. I don’t recall them including Innes, but there was an interesting discussion of other worthy male crime writers overlooked because of a desire (by academics) to see the golden age as being dominated by women.

    Innes is a writer I haven’t yet found my way to reading, although I have many of his books on my shelf, but this sounds like the kind of crime novel I would enjoy. You’ve sparked my interest; I’ll have to consider reading him soon.

  2. Thanks for this contribution to this week’s CFA Jane. I feel a special link to Michael Innes as he was at some stage an English lecturer at Adelaide University, but well before my time.
    You had quite a journey settling on a book didn’t you?

  3. I haven’t read anything by Innes, but this sounds most interesting. I’ll have to check out what the library has by him.

    At the moment I’m in much the same situation as you were in settling for a book for the letter I, in deciding what to pick for J – I have a few to choose from, it would be easier if I had just one!

  4. I’ve got Death at the President’s Lodging on my bookshelf – saving it up because it’s my only unread Innes, and I do love his books. Hamlet, Revenge! is tremendous fun, one of my favourites (Appleby’s End is the most treasured one, I don’t know how many times I’ve read it and it always makes me laugh).

  5. I know I read some Innes years ago, but he’s difficult to get hold of in our library system now. He seems to be one of the authors they’ve had a clear out of. I must try the local secondhand shops and see what I can pick up. Thank you for reminding me about him.

  6. Pingback: Shopping for books in Perth, a delight « That Book You Like…

  7. Pingback: Shopping for books in Perth, a delight

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