Thursday, July 28, 2011
The Weight of the Evidence (1944) by Michael Innes
A professor at Nesfield University is found killed by a meteorite; John Appleby investigates. One of Innes's most enjoyable academic farces, often laugh-out-loud funny. The solution to the mystery is a non-sequitur: nothing much in the investigation actually leads up to it - it's just produced out of the hat when the time has come to conclude the story. It is also bizarrely implausible and psychologically unconvincing. Curiously, Appleby does suggest at one point another possible solution, eminently more satisfying - which is then swept aside as the wrong one. Borges mentions this unfortunate tendency in Innes in his review of Hamlet, Revenge! However, I'd had so much fun with the characters and the dialogue that I didn't really care whether the solution was decent or not. Innes in any case makes it plain from the beginning that the mystery can't be taken seriously. Nobody much bothers with fingerprints, timelines and alibis; Appleby and his local colleague Inspector Hobhouse basically behave as Valentin does in the Father Brown story: they just follow the most curious trail that offers itself first.
The side plot involving Church's bigamy provides an interesting and uncharacteristic glimpse into what must be the author's own feelings about some topical matters of the time.