The Weight of the Evidence (1944) by Michael Innes

‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,’ as Albert Einstein famously stated and today’s read is partially an instance of this. I am not a big Michael Innes fan. I would go so far as saying I am not even a small Michael Innes fan. But I was given this book by family, pleased they had found a vintage mystery whilst on holiday that I had not read (which in fairness is no mean feat these days). So I decided to give it a try. After all I recently had two reasonably good reads from Allingham, an author I am also lukewarm about.

The premise for this book by Innes seemed intriguing and not too barmy. A biochemist named Professor Pluckrose is murdered at Nestfield University, having met his end one morning after sitting in a deck chair beneath a tower, only for a meteorite to land on top of him. Yet this meteorite is not fresh from space and has been propelled by a human force. Inspector Appleby is there from the get go investigating with a local policeman called Inspector Hobhouse and they soon uncovers mild and intense animosities towards Pluckrose from staff on campus. Appleby also has the unenviable job of interviewing these staff members, who are not the most cooperative bunch, omitting important information and talking in cryptic allusions being only minor offences.

Overall Thoughts

On this general synopsis the mystery does not sound all that bad and with it being set within a university campus, Innes is on home turf and is able to add a great deal of verisimilitude to the setting. It ought to be a good novel. But it really really isn’t…

Firstly there is the issue of the pacing. It’s even more atrocious in that it is reflected in the structure of the story itself. Appleby meanders and potters about for 80% of the book before any useful information for solving the crime occurs, mostly found by Hobhouse. Equally it takes until very near the end of the book to realise it is a story set pre WW2. This is all a shame really as the plot line is relatively sane for Innes and he does give us an unusual manner of death. Yet it is a plot which is wasted as the story never properly comes to life. In the hands of someone like Sayers or Carr this story could have been something. Appleby’s lines of investigation are fairly random and he doesn’t even examine some parts of the crime scene until day 3 of the investigation. Alibi checks don’t really come in to it until 40 pages from the end of the story and Appleby’s deductions on the case do feel like they are plucked out of thin air. When the solution is finally reached it has lost impact by the boring run up and then in itself it is not that interesting a solution.

The second main problem is his writing style. It is frequently indecipherable when it comes to character dialogue. His attempts to capture academic wit fall flat as a consequence. Innes’ style is invariably long winded, his long descriptive sentences making me lose the will to live and generally make me lose concentration. Yet ironically despite all this description of place and character, there is very little sense of character personality. I don’t feel I ever get to know anyone in the book. His literary allusions are overdone. You begin to feel sympathetic towards poor Inspector Hobhouse and end up quite agreeing with him when he says to Appleby that ‘I sometimes think you’re bit off it.’ Additionally this might be a good or a bad thing but Innes equally also has a bizarre turn of phrase when it comes to describing animals. Some I grant you don’t seem too bad such as ‘narcoleptic doves’ and ‘guerrilla cats.’ But I think most readers will be scratching their heads as to why Innes felt the need to include this particular bovine detail: ‘But those cows, faintly steamy still beyond a hedge, were a picture of Arcadian innocence.’ Faintly steamy??

So on that final disturbing note I’ll leave you… Unsurprisingly this is not one I suggest everyone rush out and buy on Amazon Prime or something.

Rating: 2.5/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Book (on the back cover)

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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16 Responses to The Weight of the Evidence (1944) by Michael Innes

  1. crgreaves52 says:

    I’ve read a lot of Inneses (for some reason which I can’t explain even to myself, let alone to anyone else) but ‘The Weight of the Evidence’ was one of the ones I couldn’t get through. If you thought it was boring, try ‘Stop Press’! For a series character, Appleby seems amazingly characterless – an empty suit with – as you say – a lucky ability to pluck deductions out of thin air. On the plus side, I feel Innes did have some nice ideas – ‘An Awkward Lie’ has a great beginning, for example – but lacked the time (he wrote so much) or the skill to develop them properly. Two of his books that I would recommend, however, are ‘Operation Pax’ – which has some genuinely funny scenes in it, as well as a darker edge than usual – and ‘The Journeying Boy’. He seems to have put more attention into those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I agree Innes has nice ideas from time to time but I just feel he often never lives up to expectation and doesn’t properly execute his slightly more off the beaten track ideas. His writing style is not up to them I think.

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  2. JFW says:

    Oh dear, looks like Michael Innes is an author to avoid. I’ve only read ‘Death at the President’s Lodgings’, which was more convoluted than enjoyable. I’m looking forward to your next review. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Aidan says:

    I recently suffered through Lament for a Maker but hoped that it was just a one off. I had planned to give him another try at some point soon but based on this I might just put him off for a little while longer…

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha yeah he is not an author to rush to. When you’ve recovered from your last experience of Innes, the one novel of his I’d recommend is What Happened at Hazelwood, a non-series mystery not involving Appleby.

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  4. Uh oh. I must confess that I am a Michael Innes fan-girl. Ha. I’ve read many of his books and enjoyed most, though I haven’t read this one Kate, and I probably don’t plan to. I never said the guy was perfect.

    I like Innes’ early books most and three of his stand-alones are, to my mind, pretty much brilliant.
    OPERATION PAX, CASE OF THE JOURNEYING BOY and FROM LONDON FAR (which is a fantastic orgy of maniac invention – I loved it). In OPERATION PAX, there is a wonderful episode of dark meanderings in the bowels of the University of Oxford’s Bodleian library – this alone makes the book worth the price of admission.

    My first Innes book was a delight, THE SECRET VANGUARD which begins with the murder of an inoffensive poet and winds up on a trek through the Scottish highlands full of spies, adventure and derring-do. I absolutely LOVED it. Oh, and Appleby doesn’t make an appearance in this one until the last third of the book and then just in the nick of time.

    Innes is definitely one of the more hit or miss type authors. I think he’s like no one else as far as his idea of what constitutes a mystery. Sometimes he’s on his game, sometimes he’s not and it’s up to the reader to figure it out. So far, for me anyway, it’s been worth the time and energy to track these books down. Yeah, there have been some duds, but on the whole, I’ve mostly loved every moment spent following Appleby into his often bizzaro world. And by the way, Innes was not above a satirical swipe or two at his own work as in the delightfully loony SHEIKS AND ADDERS and even, THE OPEN HOUSE. Call me crazy, but I love his stuff.

    I said I was a fan-girl. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha you really do love his work don’t you lol I’ve tried around 12 of his and they’ve been pretty much average or dud reads (From London Far being one of the latter for me). I dunno I think maybe his writing style doesn’t work for me and yeah I struggle to have any interest in Appleby as a character. The only one I really enjoyed and recommend to others is What Happened at Hazelwood. Have you tried that one?

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      • To each his own, I always say. 🙂 I didn’t think WHAT HAPPENED AT HAZELWOOD was much to write home about. It’s not in my list of top ten Innes books. Obviously there’s something in Michael Innes’ that I look for and when I find it, I’m pretty much going to go with it. Whatever that might be is hard to pinpoint. But just as obviously those that don’t like Innes, don’t find what I find. It happens that way sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think the reason why I liked WHAH so much was because it was so unlike his other works.

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  5. Roger says:

    ‘But those cows, faintly steamy still beyond a hedge, were a picture of Arcadian innocence.’ is a joking reference to Stella Gibbon’s COLD COMFORT FARM, I think. One of the virtues – or faults, depending on your viewpoint – of Innes is that – as George Orwell said of Edmund Blunden – he “is no more able to resist a quotation [or literary reference] than some people are to refuse a drink”.
    It’s interesting to look at the opinions here. Appleby himself is a void, unfortunately, even in APPLEBY’S END, where he becomes personally involved, which makes the books where he is absent or a deus ex machina better, but at his best Innes is a very good writer. FROM LONDON FAR is a wonderful rushing farce, LAMENT FOR A MAKER is a worthy homage to Wilkie Collins.
    I think that’s the problem with Innes/Stewart: he could write superbly, but he didn’t bother to think long enough about what he was writing and wrote pastiches or parodies of other novelists. His novels as J.I.M. Stewart are usually inspired by other writers. The ones deriving from Henry James are little masterpieces. The ones from C.P, Snow are…not. The same is true of the detective stories. Innes had the ability and intelligence to be a very good writer, but – whatever the reason – he just didn’t bother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Points for spotting their quotation reference! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with Innes, why he is so skilled and unskilled a writer all at the same time. Things invariably start well but then just rapidly unravel. I’ve read LFAM but the Wilkie Collins homage must have past me by. Not one I remember enjoying. I wonder if Innes might have been better sticking to non-genre novels.

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      • Roger says:

        Lament for a Maker is put together in exactly the same way as The Moonstone, with its multivoiced narrative. The plot could have been written by Sheridan Le Fanu, so – if you like chasing homage to other writers – you get two for one.

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  6. This is hilarious, I love a good ranting review. And I have a fellow-felling – I own and have read dozens of his books, and I can’t imagine why I kept on reading them because there are very few that I enjoyed at all: I think he was such a pillar of the vintage community that I felt I had to. I did like Hazelwood, which I read on your recommendation, and I quite like Hamlet Revenge. Hard put to think of any more.

    Liked by 1 person

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