Monday, March 12, 2018

Michael Innes, Death At the President’s Lodging

Michael Innes, Death At the President’s Lodging
House of Stratus reprint 2001
© Estate of JIM Stewart 1936 (and renewed)
ISBN this edition: 1-84232-732-1

I’ve read several of Michael Innes’s mysteries featuring John Appleby, but never this one, which was the first to appear.  I don’t recall what brought it to my attention, and I remembered almost nothing of the ones I have read, but good series are hard to find.  And so I bought it and read it.

And I’m not entirely sure.  Appleby is an appealing character, polished, erudite, and just introspective enough to have some depth.  In this, his first case, he is summoned to a small college, St. Anthony’s (not a part of Oxford or Cambridge; Innes, under his own name John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, taught literature at the University of Leeds, the University of Adelaide, and Queen’s University in Belfast before becoming a “fellow” of Christ Church College at Oxford).  There, the President of the College, Dr. Josiah Umpleby, has been murdered; his personal servant/butler (Mr. Slotwiner) and one of the faculty at the college (Mr. Titlow) heard a gunshot from inside Umpleby’s lodgings at about 11 PM.  Upon obtaining a key, they found him on the floor, with a bullet hole in his forehead, and his body encircled by old bones (quite obviously from some archeological expedition).

Umpleby’s relations with his faculty, we discover, are not as cordial as one would like.  And things are complicated by the fact that the murderer apparently entered through the College gardens, access to which was quite limited at night.  It was closes off by gates and only 9 people (the head porter; Umpeyby; and 7 of the faculty) had keys.  And new locks had just been installed, with the keys distributed that day.  So we have a sort-of locked room mystery, but that’s not really the focus of the investigation.

The book proceeds at a very leisurely pace, including what seemed to me to be a wholly unnecessary sub-plot involving a small group of undergraduates (the only students, really, who appear in the book).  Appleby is the only person sent from London to investigate the murder (in this respect, Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn books seem much more authentic, as they usually involve a full investigative team); he proceeds by conversing at length with each of the members of the faculty who feature in the book.  (I should note that one of the faculty involved is a mystery novelist writing under a pseudonym.)  The conclusion is, it seems to me, somewhat forced, and not really grounded (as far as I can tell) in anything Appleby has discovered.  And the denouement seems to go on forever.

For all that, it’s well written, and Appleby, as I have said, is an engaging character.  I’ll probably read more of these, but it won’t be a priority.

1 comment:

  1. Do keep reading Innes -- this one is far from his best. _Hamlet, Revenge_ is probably the best combination of detection and atmosphere.