Thursday, August 03, 2006

Book note: Sheiks & Adders by Michael Innes

Michael Innes (real name J.I.M. Stewart) is one of those authors with whom I have something approaching a love-hate relationship. Most of the mystery books of his that I've read have had serious shortcomings, to my view - mostly in the area of plot. He was not adverse to setting up a fictional crime that could not possibly come off without a series of unlikely things happening on cue, for instance. On top of that, he uses obscure (to me) references, and sprinkles his work with jokes or asides apparently designed for his fellow professors, which leaves me out of the loop. His books, in short, sometimes exasperate me. And yet I generally read almost any book of his that comes in front of me. They are occasionally oddball and sometimes quite funny (even for those of us who don't get his highbrow humor), and a few of them are adventurous, sometimes very much so. Some of them are quite good, overall. Even the ones that fall apart as mysteries generally have nice passages and observations, worth the reading.

Along the way, though, I had come to avoid most of what he wrote as an older man. Some of his later books seem a bit bitter. So, I'm pleased to note that the latest book of his to cross my path, Sheiks & Adders, c. 1982, a book written when he was quite old, isn't bitter at all, but comes across as written by an old man who has decided to be indulgent toward the younger generations. It harks back to his early days, brimming with highly unlikely circumstances and strange characters getting embroiled in ridiculous (but dangerous) situations. If you don't go into it expecting a great mystery novel (it is, in fact, very vague on the mystery side of things, the mystery apparently being an excuse to get our hero out of the house and amongst strange happenings and in contact with people who need a dose of his wisdom), but merely want a light diversion with a bit of social commentary, it'll do. The opening is worrisome in that it makes it appear the book will be thick with the finer points of the history of language, but I assure you that doesn't happen. And, a plus: the Boy Scouts are allowed to make a few appearances and are even allowed to help our hero Sir John Appleby.

The book is still in print.

Sheiks and Adders
Sheiks and Adders


In fact, now that I take a look, I see that many of his books (he was prolific, no question) are back in print, thanks to House of Stratus. If you aren't familiar with his work, may I suggest you start with one of his earliest books?

The Secret Vanguard
The Secret Vanguard


Hamlet, Revenge!
Hamlet, Revenge!

...Oh, sure. Just my luck. One of my favorites, Lament for a Maker, seems to be, at present, out of print again. (Or maybe it is just temporarily out of stock at Barnes & Noble?) I'm not the only one who likes this one. I've seen it held up as one of the best-written mystery novels of all time. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but if you only read one book by this author, this would likely be a good one to pick.

Lament for a Maker: A Sir John Appleby Mystery
Lament for a Maker: A Sir John Appleby Mystery

P.S. J.I.M. Stewart wrote a memoir, Myself and Michael Innes, but I can't say I'd recommend it, if for no other reason than I liked the author less after I read it. He comes across better in his fiction, I'd say.

3 comments:

Loni said...

I've never heard of this author or his books. Very interesting and great perspectives

At A Hen's Pace said...

I've never heard of him either! But he sounds like a good choice for my next series-mystery-jag. Thanks for the review!

Sherry said...

I make three people that have never heard of him, but I tend to like your book recommendations, Kathryn. I'll have to check it out.

I'm sorry the linky thing wasn't working, but thanks for leaving your book link anyway. I hope to get it working right by next week.