Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hare Sitting Up (1959) by Michael Innes

Hare Sitting Up

An eminent scientist working on the development of bacteriological weapons disappears without a trace, and his identical twin, a school headmaster, is enlisted to impersonate the man while John Appleby conducts a countrywide search (as usual, almost single-handedly, and by personal request from the Prime Minister).

This hare is a curious beast in the Innes menagerie. Touching as it does on the disturbing subject of the possible self-destruction of the human race, the book adopts an almost serious tone - not quite above a joke, but miles apart from Innes's usual levity. Not that the subject is particularly deeply penetrated. In fact, the usual farcical plot elements are all here, so the story and the tone do not quite fit together. Perhaps for this reason, the first half is slow going. Things pick up a bit towards the end. The main twist is easily guessed, but it's a neat twist, and perhaps more fun could have been had with it in a less topical story.

The ending itself is rather messy. A new and highly superfluous character is introduced very late in the day with the specific purpose of becoming the instrument of justice - although justice in this case is an overstatement. Innes, curiously for a mystery writer, disliked murder, but even more than that he disliked surrendering his criminals to the courts (very probably because he objected to capital punishment). So most of his villains either commit suicide or get their comeuppance through accidental means. In Hare Sitting Up, as in many of his books, Innes manages to have a mystery without a murder, but then he deals out to his likable and eccentric criminal a gruesomely detailed and very sticky end; go figure. Perhaps he considered it preferable to Broadmoor - and it certainly is, but still it's strange that he could not leave the eventual punishment altogether out of his stories. It appears that redemption à la Raskolnikov did not seem to him a probable event, for all his interest in psychology. Perhaps he really was a Freudian rather than a Jungian. Incidentally, his evident interest in sibling relationships, so prominent in this and many other books, both by Innes and by J. I. M. Stewart, doubtless springs from the same source.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating post - Innes is one of those writers that I have never really developed a huge enthusiasm for despite liking the ones I have read (APPLEBY'S END is one of the few that I remember finding turgid and a bit of an ordeal, which I realise is a minority opinion).

Reading you critique does make me want to go and read some of his books again though, as perhaps I should have tried a bit harder - so thanks very much!

polecat said...

I can understand classic mystery fans who do not take to Michael Innes. He did not even specialize in the detection field - most of his stories are extravagant or downright fantastic adventures, chase thrillers, or sometimes just elaborate jokes at the expense of the genre. I also think he was much more influenced by Stevenson than is generally acknowledged, and that much of his genre fiction lies somewhere between Kidnapped and New Arabian Nights - that is, quite a way apart from Golden Age detection. But most of all it is his sense of humour, his way with words and his willingness to experiment with conventions, sometimes outrageously, that set him apart and determine people's reactions to him.

Frankly, I wouldn't consider Hare Sitting Up a suitable choice to try and get into the spirit of Innes. Perhaps some of his (relatively) more straightforward countryhouse mysteries would be better candidates - things like the monumental Hamlet, Revenge! or the later and less ambitious books like Appleby at Allington or The Bloody Wood. But perhaps I am not the best judge of that, as I myself was smitten by Innes from the word go (and in fact only now, over 25 years later, begin to see clearly some of his flaws).