7 May 2015

Review: THE JOURNEYING BOY, Michael Innes

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1050 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: House of Stratus (March 29, 2011)
    first published 1949
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004UH7MQY
Synopsis (Amazon)

Humphrey Paxton, the son of one of Britain's leading atomic boffins, has taken to carrying a shotgun to 'shoot plotters and blackmailers and spies'. His new tutor, the plodding Mr Thewless, suggests that Humphrey might be overdoing it somewhat. But when a man is found shot dead at a cinema, Mr Thewless is plunged into a nightmare world of lies, kidnapping and murder - and grave matters of national security.

My Take

A rather intricate beginning in which two tutors are interviewed to accompany young Humphrey Paxton to Ireland. Mr Thewless is interviewed first and then informed in writing that he does not have the post. However the second successful interviewee notifies Sir Bernard that he is unable to accept the post after all. In the long run Mr Thewless meets his young charge for the first time on the railway station platform but his father fails to turn up to see him off, so during the train journey to catch the boat to Ireland Mr Thewless is beset by doubts about whether he has the right boy or not.

Meanwhile back in London the successful applicant is shot dead in a cinema and it rather looks as if Humphrey Paxton (whose actual identity is unknown to the police) may know something about the murder. Inspector Cadover attempts to identify the body, just knowing that he had recently got a position as tutor to the son of an atomic scientist and that he was meant to be escorting the boy to Ireland.

I don't think I have ever changed my mind so frequently about the merits of a story. I started off being rather frustrated by the style, but ended up enjoying it.

At times the style is rather ponderous and long-winded, and the initial plot rather complicated. The writing is littered with quotations and rather academic in-jokes, which presumably meant something to someone at the time. But there is something rather akin to Boys Own about this book and after Mr Thewless and Humphrey have crossed the sea to Ireland, and face various perils on their way to Humphrey's distant relatives, the action ramps up and it becomes a rollicking good story. Some people are not who they seem and both Humphrey and Mr Thewless turn out to have interesting characters. In the end, they seem to have got into a very tight pickle and I really wanted to know how they got out of it.

Not everybody's cup of tea but an interesting insight into what appealed to readers in the uncertain times that followed the detonation of the atomic bombs at the end of World War Two.

My rating: 3.8

I have read this for my participation (month of May) in Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge @ Past Offences

My rating

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About the author
Born in Edinburgh in 1906, the son of the city's Director of Education, John Innes Mackintosh Stewart wrote a highly successful series of mystery stories under the pseudonym Michael Innes. Innes was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, where he was presented with the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize and named a Bishop Frazer's scholar. After graduation he went to Vienna, to study Freudian psychoanalysis for a year and following his first book, an edition of Florio's translation of Montaigne, was offered a lectureship at the University of Leeds. In 1932 he married Margaret Hardwick, a doctor, and they subsequently had five children including Angus, also a novelist. The year 1936 saw Innes as Professor of English at the University of Adelaide, during which tenure he wrote his first mystery story, 'Death at the President's Lodging'. With his second, 'Hamlet Revenge', Innes firmly established his reputation as a highly entertaining and cultivated writer. After the end of World War II, Innes returned to the UK and spent two years at Queen's University, Belfast where in 1949 he wrote the 'Journeying Boy', a novel notable for the richly comedic use of an Irish setting. He then settled down as a Reader in English Literature at Christ Church, Oxford, from which he retired in 1973. His most famous character is 'John Appleby', who inspired a penchant for donnish detective fiction that lasts to this day. Innes's other well-known character is 'Honeybath', the painter and rather reluctant detective, who first appeared in 1975 in 'The Mysterious Commission'. The last novel, 'Appleby and the Ospreys', was published in 1986, some eight years before his death in 1994.


pastoffences said...

Thanks for playing 1949 Kerrie.
I had the same change of mind midway through the book, but in a different direction - I much preferred the first half (although he does overdo the academic jokes).

noirencyclopedia said...

I think of all the detective novelists of his era, Innes is the one who's become the most dated. Even at the time the ponderous style seemed designed more for the delectation of the regulars at some Oxbridge High Table than for the rest of us. Today the books seem dull as ditchwater even to old farts like me; for young readers they must be just about impenetrable.


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