Michael Innes is the pseudonym of John Innes Mackintosh Stewart (1906 – 1994), a British scholar and novelist, and is my choice to illustrate the letter I in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet.
He was born near Edinburgh, the son of a Scottish professor, and attended Edinburgh Academy, then Oriel College, Oxford where he won the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize in 1939 and honours in English. He was a Lecturer, then a Professor in English at different universities, finishing his academic career in 1973 as a Student (Fellow) at Christ Church Oxford.
He published many novels, and short stories as well as books of criticism and essays under his own name, including biographical works on Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy. Writing as Michael Innes he wrote many crime novels, the first being Death at the President’s Lodging, written in 1934 during his sea voyage to Australia. It was the first of his 29 books about his Scotland Yard detective, John Appleby, published in the UK in 1936, and in the USA in 1937 as Seven Suspects, to avoid readers thinking it dealt with the US President.
In an essay written in 1964 Innes described his writing methods – during the academic year he wrote for two hours before breakfast. He thought that reading detective stories was addictive (I have to agree with that!) and that he managed to escape the compulsion to read them by writing his own mysteries (maybe I should try that). He thought in depth characterisation wasn’t right in detective stories and he avoided having real problems or feelings intrude on his characters. He regarded crime fiction solely as escapist literature.
I’m currently reading Death at the President’s Lodging – a used Penguin Books edition published in 1958, one of the green and white crime fiction books.
It’s set in a fictional English college, St Anthony’s (much like an Oxford college) where the President of the college has been murdered, his head swathed in a black academic gown, a human skull beside his body and surrounding it, little piles of human bones.
As I would expect from a professor of English, Innes’s writing is intellectual, detailed, formal and scattered with frequent literary allusions and quotations. The plot is complex and in the nature of a puzzle. There are plenty of characters, the suspects being the dons of the college. As well as Appleby there are the local police, headed up by Inspector Dodd, who acts as a foil to Appleby’s intellectual approach to the murder. I’ll write more about the book when I’ve finished it.
For a list of Michael Innes’s work see Wikipedia.