11 April 2011

Review: DEATH AT THE PRESIDENT'S LODGING, Michael Innes - audio

Audio book available from Audible.com
Narrated by Stephen Hogan
Length: 9 hours
First published 1936, the first of the Inspector Appleby series.

Publisher's Blurb:
Inspector Appleby is called to St Anthony's College, where the president has been murdered in his lodging. Scandal abounds when it becomes clear that the only people with any motive to murder him are the only people who had the opportunity - because the President's Lodging opens off Orchard Ground, which is locked at night, and only the Fellows of the College have keys.
Legendary character Inspector John Appleby of Scotland Yard inspired a lasting vogue for donnish detective fiction. Innes's detective novels are playfully highbrow and rich in allusions to English literature and to Renaissance art.

My take:
This was not only the first in the Appleby series which was to continue very successfully, with 35 titles, till 1986, but it was also Michael Innes' (John Innes Mackintosh Stewart) debut novel.

The murder has a very limited number of suspects (the alternative title for the book was SEVEN SUSPECTS) and they try to move suspicion from themselves to each other, to the point of even moving the body, destroying evidence, and leaving "red herring" clues with the body. There is an elaborate setup with keys to the college grounds of the college, being changed on the day before the murder, and with the description of the college as being like a "submarine": once locked up no-one can get in, and keys are needed to get out.
As the publisher's blurb says, this was "donnish" detective fiction, with an academic feel to it. The text is littered with references to current detective fiction that Innes either did or didn't like, and rather obviously tries to appeal to an "intellectual" audience. Just by-the-by Innes seems also to be trying to establish that writing detective fiction, as he is, or reading it, as his readers are, is a "worthwhile" intellectual activity.

There are times when you just wish the action would happen faster, that Innes/Appleby would just "get on with it". A lot of time is spent with suspects explaining where they were at the time the murder must have happened, and why they thought someone else had perpetrated the crime.  Innes is obviously trying to engage his readers with logic puzzles which involve timing and placement. I couldn't help wondering if the original publication included a map.
I suspect the language hasn't really weathered time very well and will have limited appeal to modern readers.
However the narrator Stephen Hogan provides a good audio version.

My rating:  4.1

DEATH AT THE PRESIDENT'S LODGING and other Michael Innes titles are available for Kindle.

I will "count" this book in two challenges: 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge and the  British Books Challenge I wrote about this very title in Friday's Forgotten Books. My records show that I read it in 1988. 

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