Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes - for the #1936 Club

Title: Death at the President’s Lodgings
Author: Michael Innes
Publication: Penguin paperback (originally published in 1936)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 1930s England
This week Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1936 Club, where bloggers read and write about books published in a chosen year.

Description: In this series launch, Inspector John Appleby of Scotland Yard is summoned to Oxford for the difficult and delicate task of investigating the murder of the unpopular Josiah Umpleby, president of St Anthony's College. Because Umpleby was killed in his rooms off a small courtyard only accessible from the main part of the College, Appleby and the local police believe the killer must be one of the faculty who had keys and lived or worked there.
My Impression: An obituary for J. I. M. Stewart, an academic who wrote mysteries as Michael Innes, said he was more concerned with style and humor than with realism. His stories, part of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, were considered urbane and clever, but I will admit I found this one a bit dull and found Appleby too understated to be interesting. I also had a hard time keeping the dons straight although having attended a university based on Oxford, I could envision the setup perfectly. However, often an author has not hit his or her stride in the first book in a series, and there were some good quotes:

The ability to smell a rat is an important part of the detective’s equipment. Appleby has smelt a rat – in the wrong place. But he was too wary to take it that a rat in the wrong place is necessarily a red herring: it may be a rat with a deceptive fish-like smell – and still a rat.

“The event might have turned more quickly if you had come forward at once with such information as you possess.

“That is no doubt a just observation, Mr. Appleby. And – well, here goes.” And Professor X, after an appreciative pause over the dashing colloquialism, really went, if somewhat parenthetically, ahead.

“I will not pause,” said Professor Y, who had just paused impressively over this lurid picture. “I will not pause to particularize my feelings. I will merely say that I fled –“

“Nobody, I think, could have predicted the arrival of an officer of Mr. Appleby’s perspicacity.”

Every mystery series should launch with a perspicacious detective, don’t you think?

This is my eighth book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge hosted by Carol's Notebook
: Library (it was surprisingly hard to find a copy of this book!).  In The Golden Age of Murder, which I am slowly reading, Martin Edwards says the book was “renamed Seven Suspects in the US to forestall connotations of foul play in the White House” where FDR was president.


Katrina said...

This is definitely not one of his best, but it is by far the easiest one to find here as it was re-issued by Penguin not too long ago. I particularly didn't like the lack of female characters but given the setting I suppose that was almost inevitable.

Helen said...

I haven't read this one, but I've read some of the other books in the Appleby series and I find that the quality varies a lot. The only one I've really loved was Lament for a Maker, which has multiple narrators and is written in a very different style from the rest.

Judy Krueger said...

I must confess, 1936 is a bit of a no man's land for me. Except for classics I began my 20th century reading in 1940 since I was born later in that decade. Still, I like reading your reviews for the 1936 club.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Someone recommended another book from Michael Innes' series as a better book -- Hamlet Revenge. I hope you won't give up on the series until you try this one! And I didn't know the series started off in 1936, learnt something new today.

Simon T [StuckinaBook] said...

That renaming is funny :D St Anthony's College is a curious choice - one of the few I never went in. I haven't tried any of his novels under this name, but I did stall midway through one of his J.I.M. Stewart novels.