Michael Innes (1906-1994 )
This sums up the heart of the Innes' books. They are entertainment, humorous, witty and frequently highly improbable. His books have a literary or artistic theme running through them and this, quite often, provides the motivation behind the crime. Usually set in the academic world or in the homes of the aristocracy, it is interesting to note that Innes' depiction of the nobly born is sometimes of endearingly eccentric characters but often of arrogant, stupid and selfish noblemen who thoroughly deserve whatever unpleasant fate befalls them. Many of the mysteries centre around their possession of some literary or artistic treasure that they either do not appreciate and wish to reject, conceal, destroy or profit by. In The Ampersand Papers (1978) Lord Ampersand is irritated by requests from academics to study his family papers and Lord Ampersand's son and heir, Lord Skillet, comes up with a malicious and eccentric way of discouraging these visitors:
Appleby is Innes' main detective but there are other cases solved by Charles Honeybath, a well-known portrait painter and a friend of Appleby, who first appears in The Mysterious Commission (1974.). In Appleby and Honeybath (1983), the two men combine to investigate. Although Honeybath first discovers the body, it is Appleby who actually solves the mystery. In some of the later Appleby mysteries, Appleby's son, Bobby, also investigates.
However Innes' novels are not just about humour, even of the most elegant literary kind. The plots are intricate and fascinating and his understanding of psychology and motivation is excellent. As a young man he had travelled to Vienna to study Freudian psychology and this is evident throughout his work. The first pages of A Night of Errors (1947) beautifully illustrate the on-going emotional destruction of one person by another.
Portrait painter, Charles Honeybath, is commissioned by members of the local hunt to paint a portrait of Terence Grinton, Master of Foxhounds. Honeybath goes to stay as a guest at Grinton Hall and spends some time trying to select a suitable setting for the portrait. There is one room at Grinton Hall that is never entered: the library, and 'the ghost of the library (if the expression isn't too strange a one) was somehow at large at Grinton. This was perhaps because Mr Grinton wasn't merely of a philistine temperament and indifferent to books. He hated them, particularly if their authors had names like Pliny or Julius Caesar.' Despite this, Honeybath thinks that the contrast of erudition and Grinton's ruddy complexion and hunting clothes may prove an interesting artistic challenge and seeks out the library..