Michael Innes – Appleby’s Other Story, 1974

 

Some time ago, I have already examinated John Innes Mackintosh Stewart  and discussed about him when I analyzed The Gay Phoenix, 1976.
“Appleby’s Other Story”, John Appleby’s twenty-sixth adventure, was published in 1974.

It begins, without any introduction, right away with the murder.John Appleby former Chief Commissioner now retired, along with his friend Colonel Tommy Pride, Chief of Police County, is on his way to Elvedon Court, an ancient manor house, owned by Maurice Tytherton, businessman and big collector of paintings . The secret intention of Pride, which has happily involved Appleby, happy to wake up from the slumber of retirement, is to get an opinion by his friend regarding a matter which occurred a few years earlier: the disappearance of some valuable paintings from the mansion of Elvedon Court, well paid by the insurance guy. However in Pride something is wrong in the disappearance and so the two are bringing the collector. But they find him already dead and stiff: he was killed in the night with a gunshot wound, in his studio.

Pride, asks Appleby, to deal fairly with the benevolence of the Inspector Henderson, happy to obtaining a prestigious advice as that of the former Commissioner,.
The environment in which the police must move is nebulous, far beyond the most optimistic expectations: the inhabitants of the house, from the familiar to the household, are the most treacherous might exist.
The second wife of Maurice Tytherton, Alice, is beautiful but cold and distant: she is interested in the good name of the property to be well regarded by society, and takes advantage of her husband substances considerably, living comfortably. As you know her relationship with her husband are cold: her husband has a mistress, Cynthia Graves, a girl of dubious morality, a courtesan of luxury, a kept short, that is not ashamed to warm not only the bed of her lover but also the bed of Maurice’s nephew, Archie, other debauched, whose favorite activity is to have sex with whoever chicks in sight, including the maids. Cynthia, after all, has not lost time: she has a extramarital affair with Dr. Carter, an eminent surgeon. So a family where the infidelities are mutual and also well known.

In addition to the immediate family members, other strange characters move in the house: Raphael, strange mediator of works of art, by his criminal record not spotless, involved in the past of Appleby at investigations concerning disappearances of works of art and receiving, who is around the huge and multiple rooms of the villa, apparently invited by the landlord; Miss Kentwell, another strange character, whose occupation seems to be to extort money for charity, and finally the butler, Catmull and his wife, both slimy, very interested in the property of the house, and gossips. Finally, there is also the prodigal son, just got home, Mark, only son of Maurice, who Appleby located in the woods around the house, and that seems to have been at home the night before  his father was killed, and that he had with him a furious quarrel, which ended with his escape into the woods. The reason for so much hatred? The jewels of the mother, the first wife of Maurice, valuable jewelry, including a diamond parure, which as own property of his mother and not given her by her husband, they should be own of Mark and instead they are over, despite aspirations to possess them from part of Alice, in the hands of a bitch of Maurice, Cynthia, who on every occasion never loses an opportunity to understand how sex is a job and a chance to succeed.
In addition to these moral exemplars”, two other characters turn in tourbillon entourage: the vicar Voysey, and secretary of Maurice, Ronnie Ramsden, another character rather ambiguous.

The investigations of Appleby and Harrison have suffered quite complex: Miss Ramsden and Kentwell, the night before, they toured the house, with destination roofs, climbing and descending stairs inside to enjoy the full moon. First they entered at the studio on the first floor, but did not find Maurice Tytherton, then when they went back down, found him dead: curiously, the tray with brandy instead of being on the mantelpiece was in another place as if Maurice had received a visit. In addition, the first time they entered at the study, they felt the scream of a peacock, and looking out saw him stationed on the head of the statue of Hermes, just under the window, and the second time they didn’t heard.
The time is twenty minutes, in which anyone in the house could have shopped the crime without being seen: the two that probably, as mentioned, are excluded before are Ramsden and Kentwell, who as together, to provide everyone another an airtight alibi (always, however, that they have killed him together!). Either you do not understand why Ramsden had to suppress his master, and even more so the Kentwell which is apparently in the house to raise funds for charity: she would have to kill “his goose that lays the golden eggs.” Why?

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Appleby begins to investigate. And soon understand that each one of the subjects of this drama has two or three different faces, each lying at the same time presenting the truths that are more comfortable. And he understands among the possible motives of murder (jealousy versus his wife or his nephew, and for this reason he had asked the same afternoon of his death his lawyer, to change the testamentary dispositions, changing beneficiaries (niece, wife, child); possession of his wife’s jewelry (son, wife, lover); stolen paintings (Raphael); icons removed from the USSR and ended up in the hands of Maurice), the driving factor was that of art objects. You find Miss Kentwell be a private detective in disguise, whose double occupancy in that house was to control Alice on behalf of her husband, to demonstrate her betrayal and at the same time to look for the icons stolen. And within a day Appleby comes to solving the case, after having made ​​the rounds of the immense villa and having visited all the rooms and floors and even having been in attics, after finding the torn paper in the local deputy to the trash; after hearing the cry of a peacock, on the night of the murder, after finding the stolen icons, behind the innocent squares.
Highest class novel, Appleby’s Other Story has a tension that does not loose a moment and various are its characteristics.

The first, theabsence ofa prologue, anintroductionto the crime: Innes, despite being a pureBritish, andthen inserted into thevein of theAnglo-Saxon detective story, he actsas J.D.Carr used to do: he entered hischaracterincrime took place, most of the time, alien to thecontext in whichthe crimehas matured, impartial, “superhomines” and then be able to assessthe half-truthsas wellashalf-lies.
The second,the presence ofrhetorical figuresscattered here and there, including some very effectiveallegorical representations: John InnesMackintoshStewartwas aprofessor ofgreatqualities humanities thatyou couldappreciate into thetrendmoreoften expressedin his novels, at theliterary referenceworks ofLatin and Britishauthorsof the past: here, too, sometimes, hisliterary knowledgediffer. At the beginningof the novel,there is a stepin point:Grove nodsatgrove, eachalleyhasabrother, AndhalftheplatformjustReflectstheother and the reader notvery curious,couldfalselyattributed toWilliamBlake, whois mentioneda few linesbelow,andabove allthatcouldbe attributed toa displayofpoetic cultureabsolutelyvain. In fact,Grove nodsatgrove, eachalleyhasabrother, AndhalftheplatformjustReflectstheother that is a passage from EpistlestoSeveralPersons: EpistleIV, To RichardBoyle(Moral Essays,p. IV, l.117)by Alexander Pope, in my opinionbehindtoother reasoning.

As I supposed at the case of The Gay Phoenix, here Michael Innes uses his humanistic knowledge using it in  lexical treasures and enigmatic references, which, when placed in the box, they are never separated from the context of the plot, but rather anticipate the nature of revelation and deductions later. Thus, if the title of the novel of 1975 alluded not so much to a quality of the Phoenix as a subtle allusion to the homosexual nature of a character, so also here on several occasions, Innes uses figures of speech to reveal certain characteristics of the plot. The allegory that is inherent in the couplet of Pope, may be reported in addition to the psychological duplicity of the characters, even the double nature of a feature of the plot that will be the basis of the final revelation. I do not think it is my personal guess, so much so that the beginning of the couplet “Grove nods at grove” is repeated later  in the rest of the novel.

However Innes fits other figures of speech in the narrative framework of the novel: a similarity between the way you peel the apple by Reverend Voysey and the gracefulness with which he climbs the flight of stairs of Elvedon Court; or an allegory, referring to the dream of Archie (the pool table who becomes larger and so the slats; and the balls at the end they are like cannonballs, and he has to beat continually them here and there, frantically),  in which, in my opinion, the dream alludes to a representation of intercourse, even in a figurative rather obscene: the pool table could be the lover or the bed, the slats are often figurative representations of the male member, the balls of the testes. Their frenetic movement figuratively expresses precisely the heat of an embrace, in an extremely plastic.
It also describes beautifully the figure of Archie, tying the understanding of his psychological nature to a representation which is also visual, explanatory in his coarseness and associated with a particular type of person.

Then there’s an epic phrase : Hold high your swords shining or the dew will rust . The couplet refers to the famous speech Shakespeare’s Othello does that in English reads: Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” (William Shakespeare: Othello, Act 1, Scene II, to 60). In my opinion we have ascertained a parody: in fact, the rolling pin lifted into the air by butler Catmull’s wife and ready to strike, draws his sword raised in the air by Othello. Here the image of the epic Shakespearean speech, takes on a sarcastic more , because to the warrior of the sea is countered a warrior of the kitchen. The dew,  as you know is laying on the flowers and grass,  on something that is at the bottom. If you do not use often the sword, that will remain inactive, tucked into the sheath, and may run the risk of rust. If you often use it, fighting, it will not rust, because it will always be used, and then clean and sharp. So the rolling pin often used will be clean, more clean than not used often.
Another figure of speech that appears to me is the circumlocution: the phrase under consideration is at page 114 of the cap. 6th into the Italian translation of the novel, in which Appleby says to himself, his wanderings in the attics of Elvedon Court. The phrase in its original version is “The superannuations of sunk realms (taken from The Fall of Hyperion a dream” “by John Keats 1, 66), referring to the meaning of the paraphrase mentioned by Innes, because in this case it refers ideally to a dusty attic in which they are stacked many things now put on board because they are no longer usable or gone out of fashion.

These figures of speech and expressions, that every so often you meet, they all looked very ironic, manifestation classic of British humor, a laughter through clenched teeth, which relieves the tension, softening it with the beat of the educated man.

The result in all its complexity, is a writing not very easy to interpret, valuable in its wordplay, its meanings, often double, difficult and therefore also slow in his gait, similar to slowness gait with which a elderly person, such as Appleby, moves and speaks: in short, a similarity hidden in the very nature of the stylistic way of writing ..
Other hidden meaning seems to me to be the reference scream of the peacock perched on the head of the statue of Hermes. As the same Innes says, citing the nature of the psychopomp by Hermes, the god Hermes was the companion of the spirits of the dead, at the journey to the underworld of the afterlife: therefore, the reference of Hermes and of peacock, would be an sought allusion: the peacock screaming (at night, even the hoopoe who is a symbol of death, screams), perched on the head of a deity, with a value of deities of the afterlife, it would allude to the death of someone, in this case of Maurice. In other words, when the peacock screams perched on the head of the statue of Hermes, Maurice is already dead and Hermes is leading him in the kingdom of the dead.

However, the class of Innes lies in the use of these subtleties of poetic practice, and these learned quotations, not as we said before, only to show off his culture, but above all to emphasize certain characteristics of the novel. This, then, once again, the novel reveals the treasures, not so obvious to the first interpretation.

The novel finally possesses some very significant citations, authors of crime: they are manifest, when he cites The Problem of Thor Bridge by Conan Doyle’s The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes published in 1922,  while they are hidden, most likely when he runs in the solution, certainly, to a famous story of Department of Queer Complaints by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr), published in 1940.

Pietro De Palma

Un pensiero su “Michael Innes – Appleby’s Other Story, 1974

  1. Pingback: Nautical naughtiness – Classic crime in the blogosphere, January 2014 | Past Offences

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