Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Happened at Hazelwood (1946) by Michael Innes

Christie often stressed the concept of Evil as the driving force of crime. Innes, in true Libra fashion, eschews it at any cost. He strives for harmony all around. Crime is at worst grotesque, not evil, and Innes's preference is, while explaining the mystery, to explain the crime away. It is he who used the outrageous but sooner-or-later inevitable twist of having a victim die of laughter. If evil is to be present at all, it is first for the block, as in this novel. The book has an almost Victorian feel, helped by two different narrators, somewhat in the Collins manner. Nicolette is one of the most appealing heroines in the genre, if not the whole of literature. It's surprising how sexy Innes can afford to be in 1946 in the most conservative of genres (including a borrowed device from an even earlier novel). Where he fails is in not even trying to mask the mechanical revelatory final reel as literature. To him, straight fiction and a mystery story were irreconcilable, and he does not attempt to make the mechanics of the plot plausible or at least seamless. Still, it's a top-tier Innes, and would have made a wonderful movie in the right hands (Launder and Gilliat).

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