RogerBW's Blog

The Weight Of The Evidence, Michael Innes 28 February 2017

1943 mystery, ninth in Innes' John Appleby series. At Nestfield University, Professor Pluckrose is found dead in his deck-chair on the Green, crushed by a meteorite; surely not an accident, and Appleby investigates.

Or rather, Appleby observes, and makes notes, but mostly thinks hatefully about all the people he's meeting. He'll happily accept their hospitality but soon writes them off as "an unpleasant fellow" or an "awful woman"; the book is in tight third-person perspective so we get most of his thoughts, but at the same time his important deductions are omitted. There's no sense of progress through the book: there's just more and more description of increasing numbers of eccentric people (is everyone in this redbrick university town an outright nutter?), the occasional supposition, and a sudden resolution relying on something that has barely been mentioned.

The point of the thing is meant to be the people, but they're there to have their foibles dissected and laid out. They have silly names (Pluckrose, Prisk, Hissey, Mrs Tavender). The Vice-Chancellor affects a German accent and talks nonsense about psychoanalysis. It's all thrown in at great length, and very little seems actually to happen. There is a passing reference to the ongoing war: no mention of air-raids in this industrial town, but someone has been over in Germany doing something that really sounds like more of a pre-war activity.

I read some Innes years ago, at much the same time as I read some Allingham, but didn't remember as much about him. This book, at least, seemed like very heavy going, with little in the way of clues or detection (there were some, but only a leavening, mixed in with all the stodgier stuff); it felt more like an extended rant against the dreaded new universities, and how horrible it was that they couldn't all be Oxford or Cambridge. (Innes, or rather J. I. M. Stewart, was Jury Professor of English at the University of Adelaide when he wrote this.)

Read for Past Offences' 1943 month. Followed by Appleby's End.

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