Reviews


John Baxter's A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict (2002) - see it at Amazon - includes several lists of "best books". Innes appears on the original and revised versions of Queen's Quorum, "the choice made by crime writers Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, alias 'Ellery Queen', of the greatest novels of detection and mystery", revised by "detective historian Howard Haycraft", and updated since then too. Lament for a Maker is one of the choices for 1938. The later list drops this, but adds Appleby Talking as the choice for 1948 - an odd decision, I'd have thought, as Lament for a Maker is certainly powerful and original, though several people contacting me via this site have given it as one of their least favourite, whilst Appleby Talking is rather inferior: short stories where the emphasis is on the puzzle rather than atmosphere or character.


In his second book of autobiography, Ways of Escape (1980), Graham Greene relates how he came across Innes's writing on a cargo-ship in the winter of 1941:

...I read what I could find in the ship's library.

One of these books was by Michael Innes - an author whom I didn't then know. I had never cared much for English detective stories. With all their carefully documented references to Bradshaw's timetable or the technique of campanology or to the geography - complete with plan - of a country house, I found them lacking in realism. There were too many suspects and the criminal never belonged to what used to be called the criminal class.

Outside the criminal class sexual passion and avarice seemed the most likely motives for murder; but the English detective writer was debarred by his audience of the perpetually immature - an adjective which does not preclude a university professor here or there - from dealing realistically with sexual passion, so he was apt to involve his readers in a story of forged wills, disinheritance, avaricious heirs, and of course railway timetables. Michael Innes's book provided a welcome change. It was a detective story both fantastic and funny.

Given the date Greene read this book, it must be one of Innes's first five novels. Of those, Lament for a Maker is not particularly funny, and The Secret Vanguard would more naturally be described as a thriller than as a detective story. This leaves Death at the President's Lodging, Hamlet, Revenge! and Stop Press as candidates for the book Greene found. He goes on to say

I developed the ambition to write a funny and fantastic thriller myself. If Innes could do it, why could not I? (pp 93-4)

This became Greene's nineteenth published book, The Ministry of Fear.