Author: Michael Innes
Publication: Penguin paperback (originally published in 1936)
Setting: 1930s EnglandStuck 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?
: 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.