Collectible price: $33.34
Michael Innes in his usual perfection! Like any of his books, this one will delight you between dinner and bedtime. Skip that blind date and take out Michael Innes instead. He's the hippest, coolest Oxford don on the crime scene.
This one features George, my favorite aristocratic dog, as well as a young debonair Appleby in the pre-Judith days. The story starts out as a Robinson Crusoe shipwreck adventure (featuring a proper English spinster who goes native), turns into an offbeat drawing room comedy (with an entire cast of eccentric characters including the wonderful George), and ends up a World War II action-suspense thriller (with full sensurround fire and explosions)! Really, it does!
Along the way Innes' dry, hilarious prose drops little precious gems of insight and percipience. If you read Innes with your dictionary handy, you are guaranteed several arcane and ultra-cool additions to your vocabulary in every book. He's a sort of cross between Henry Fielding and Douglas Adams... kooky and hip and very, very well educated. If he is still alive, he is over eighty... and if I met him I would just swoon!
Used price: $2.53
As this elegant story begins, an antediluvian Chief Constable, Colonel Pride (late of His British Majesty's Indian Army) is driving Sir John over to meet his neighbors at Elvedon Court. Sir John was New Scotland Yard's acknowledged authority on art-robberies, and the manor's owner has suffered a recent theft:
"'Grove nods at grove' -- Sir John Appleby quoted -- 'each alley has a brother--'
"What's that, my dear fellow?" Colonel Pride, who had drawn up his car on the Palladian bridge for a preliminary view of Elvedon Court, glanced at his companion with every appearance of perplexity.
"'And half the platform just reflects the other.'
"Ah, a bit of poetry." Pride nodded. He was seemingly gratified at having got, as he would have expressed it, right on the ball. "And I see what the chap means. All a bit formal, I agree. What another of those long-haired characters calls fearful symmetry."
The layout of Elvedon Court plays an important role in the ensuing mystery, so it behooves you to pay attention when the author is discussing its architecture.
No sooner do Colonel Pride and Sir John pull up next to the stately flight of steps leading to the manor's entrance, than they spot a police van.
Someone has murdered their host, Maurice Tytherton.
Almost everyone at Elvedon Court is a suspect, including a shifty butler and his wife, a known art thief, the late owner's mistress and her husband, a sniveling nephew with financial problems, and a prying guest who may remind you of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Sir John insinuates himself amongst the guests and relatives of the deceased and has a splendid time smashing alibis and detecting motives. There are lots of red herrings to chase after--for instance a vicar who lurks about the distinguished grounds with a pair of binoculars--but when Sir John finally rounds up all of the suspects into the deceased's study for the grand denouement, you may be sure he will finger the actual murderer. After all, "Appleby's Other Story" is from the Golden Age of British Mystery--the genre's Age of Enlightenment, as practiced by authors such as Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Margaret Allingham, and of course, J.I.M. Stewart a.k.a Michael Innes.
Incidentally, this book's title is a horrible bit of word-play on the solution of the mystery. I stumbled across its true meaning (shame on you, Professor Stewart!) while writing this review.
Used price: $0.50
Collectible price: $1.48
Buy one from zShops for: $3.00
This particular Appleby is mostly dialogue. Almost all of the action (several deaths, drug dealing, statutory rape) takes place off stage. Innes paints very believable psychological portraits of his protagonists, a talent that may have been strengthened by the year he spent in Vienna, studying Freudian psychology. The characters' interactions tend to be both erudite and revealing, as in this mystery's opening scene when the guests have gathered in the loggia at dusk to hear a nightingale sing:
"'O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy Spray/ Warbl'st at eve, and when all the woods are still.'
"This was Bobby again, and it ought to have been harmless and agreeable. But it wasn't, Appleby thought--or not quite. Grace Martineau could be sensed as stiffening in displeasure as if she felt Bobby--her husband's nephew--to be guying this new poem, and so guying the bird. And it was quite possible--one suddenly perceived--that Grace didn't much like Bobby, anyway.
"And Diana Page, too, seemed not pleased, for she launched another attack on the young man.
"'Fancy spouting poetry about the nightingale,' she said, 'when one can sit still and listen to it!"
The deaths don't take place until the latter half of the mystery. Meanwhile the reader becomes well-acquainted with Grace Martineau and her machinations to have her husband remarry after she has died. Her guests, already on edge because they know this is the last time they will see their hostess, are shocked by her insistence that her husband should wed another after her passing. They are even more shocked when they learn Grace's choice of bride.
"The Bloody Wood" is a somber Appleby, almost more tragedy than mystery. Nevertheless it is a good mystery, where the reader is challenged to discover a killer, after the author has furnished revealing psychological portraits of the murder suspects.
Used price: $0.50
Collectible price: $10.59
Michael Innes is one of my favorite mystery authors. His books can be difficult to find, due to the lack of availability. Take advantage of e-shops, and buy them here. You won't be sorry. The New Sonia Wayward is the most famous, but this is as good an offering as you'll find, although my favorite so far is Hare Sitting Up.
Used price: $4.00
Collectible price: $8.47
Buy one from zShops for: $14.81
Duncan Patullo returns to his Oxford college(called Surrey, based on Christ Church) for his year's Gaudy, the Oxonian term for a class reunion. He is a moderately successful playwright, apparently of somewhat old-fashioned taste (there are dismissive references to Ionesco and John Arden). He meets several of his old classmates, including his old friend Tom, now Lord Marchpayne, and spends a great deal of time analyzing his fellow guests. There are scandals and even a bit of excitement, but the plot is really driven by Patullo's interior monologue, similar to those of C.P. Snow's characters, but rather better thought out and written. By the end, Patullo has accepted a post as lecturer in Modern Drama and a fellowship at the college, and the stage is set for the rest of the "Staircase in Surrey" novels, which find Patullo an aging don.
This book was a bit fresher in its invention than its successors, and the plot twists that drive the action, such as it is, are much less contrived than in the other "Surrey" novels. The transformation of a middle aged playwright who has not thought twice about his old college in as many years into a scholar devoted to the place is marvelously described. Stewart had clearly gotten a subject after his heart, and reaches a power of description unmatched in his other work.
Stewart was a Student (fellow) of Christ Church College, and here writes what he knows. A good work for fans of Powell, or Snow, or Beryl Bainbridge, and a good look at the kind of novel that flourished in England from 1950-1985 or so.
Used price: $1.44
Collectible price: $4.99
Buy one from zShops for: $5.00
Used price: $2.80
Collectible price: $6.40
Used price: $2.00
Collectible price: $8.00
Used price: $9.47
Collectible price: $8.75
Used price: $9.23
Collectible price: $13.76