Appleby Talking: The Detective Fiction of Michael Innes

APPLEBY TALKING:

The Detective Fiction of Michael Innes


 “Mr. Innes commands such a battery of wit, subtlety, learning and psychological penetration that he blows almost all opposition clean out of the water.”

– Nicholas Blake, Spectator, 30th October 1936

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“Mr. Michael Innes is in a class by himself among writers of detective fiction.”

Times Literary Supplement, 3rd July 1937

 

“A meticulously elegant style, a dry literary humour, and a slightly absurd (and, indeed, an absurdly slight) plot are the hallmarks of a thriller by Mr. Michael Innes: hallmarks which have been constantly imitated but which remain somehow distinct.”

Times Literary Supplement, 6th October 1961

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Michael Innes is perhaps the most obvious example of an author who runs out of inspiration.  His first four novels – Death at the President’s Lodging, Hamlet, Revenge!, Lament for a Maker and Stop Press – are all superb: long, complex, densely plotted and full of recondite literary allusions and jests, they show what a first-class mind can do with the detective story.  His works of the 1940s are, while slightly inferior, still extremely good works, full of imagination and ingenuity (especially From London Far), but running increasingly to parody and pastiche: What Happened at Hazelwood is a full-blooded melodrama complete with triplets and bold, bad baronet murdered in the study, while A Night of Errors is a Wodehousian farce played with dead bodies.  In the 1950s, the rot sets in: Innes’s books become much shorter (some finding it difficult to reach the length of a Simenon novella) and trivial, often preferring to concentrate on a rather weak joke or a series of chases rather than on plot or detection.  This is a great pity, for (as his early works demonstrated) Innes had genius – but no sticking-power.



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