I've never read any Innes before - not sure why, just never occurred to me. But the other week I met an acquaintance who noticed my Peter Lovesey novel, and we got talking about crime fiction, and he mentioned that he used to read Michael Innes, and I thought I'd give him a shot then.
Reading the novel I fluctuated between thinking it was great and thinking it was pretentious. The first blogging idea that came into my head was that I should write "this is a literary novel - if by literary you mean that there are an awful lot of words in the sentences" - but later I decided that it doesn't really apply. It is literary in the real sense too - oblique-ish references to Ulysses (the Joyce one) etc. On the whole, two days after finishing it, I think it's quite memorable. In a good way. Excellent? Would I say that? I think I must read some more to make sure (but I'm reading Ian Rankin now, so it will have to wait).
The story is that a series of seemingly unconnected events - the disappearance of a counting cabhorse, a haunted house, a multiple personality girl and a Yorkshire witch - turn out to be all part of a scheme to cash in on peoples' credulity in the post-war years (the book is from 1944). The actual crime novel part is very by the way really - it's more a case of the prime characters being police officers than a case of a novel about a crime. There is no detection per se, they sort of stumble upon the right people in a deus ex machina sort of way. Which is disappointing if you're expecting a whodunnit. I suggest the reader just goes with it.
I think some quotes are in order.
"There are openings in all classes [ ... ] In the main it will be spiritualism for the upper class and astrology for the lower. Spiritualism is comparatively expensive - and can be extremely so - whereas astrology is quite cheap. The middle classes will have the benefit of a little of both. For rural populations we shall rely cheifly on witchcraft. What is sometimes called the intelligentsia has exercised my mind a good deal. Yoga might do, and reincarnation and the Great Mind and perhaps a little Irish mythology. But the problem is not important, as there are likely to be singularly few of them left."
It is uncannily accurate, isn't it?
" 'Here is a perfect detective-story motive, and yet we're not in a detective story at all.'
'My dear man, you're talking like something in Pirandello. Go to sleep.'
'We're in a sort of hodge-podge of fantasy and harum-scarum adventure that isn't a proper detective story at all. We might be by Michael Innes.'
'Innes? I've never heard of him.' Appleby spoke with decided exasperation."
This could make an excellent film, in the right hands.