Sunday, January 29, 2017

European RC #1

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge

Lament for a Maker – Micheal Innes

Set in remote rural Scotland in the middle 1930s, this novel borders on the real and surreal, with fanciful plotting and bizarre characters. The first section is narrated by Ewan Bell, patriarch and village cobbler. He uses the unfamiliar vocabulary of Scottish English: quean for girl, chiel for man, unco for remarkable, fleer for grin, to name only a very few. The new words add to the local color, strange atmosphere and bizarre goings-on. It’s challenging but attentive reading allows us to grok the meaning.

The next section is narrated by Noel Gylby, who is clearly an English major with a sophisticated literary style. Innes was a university prof and must have read – and suffered - a lot in this witty self-conscious style. Gylby appears in Hamlet, Revenge! by Innes. Very impressive is his depiction of Gothic scene of the ruined castle, unheated and unlighted, with the mad miserly laird in his keep, his face lined and heart heavy with turmoil. 

The third section features the orotund style of Lawyer Wedderburn. His pompous prose calls to mind attorneys in Dickens. The fourth section is the narrative of Innes’ series hero, Yard inspector John Appleby. The next section, I can’t possible give away as a spoiler. Innes – that is, J.I.M. Stewart - was a scholar of modernist prose so he enjoys pulling tricks out of its bag: multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, sly social comment, starting in the middle of the story, etc.

Innes wrote mysteries assuming his audience comprised bookish people who are looking for an entertaining break between reading, say, That Mighty Sculptor, Time (Marguerite Yourcenar) and  Little Herr Friedmann (Thomas Mann). He has Lawyer Wedderburn define mysteries as “a species of popular fiction which bears much the same relation to the world of actual crime as does pastoral poetry to the realities of rural economy. “ So Innes thought it appropriate and fun to “bring a little fantasy and fun into the detective story,” as he said in his 1987 memoir.

Readers that like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey will like the intelligent and deftly written  mysteries of Michael Innes. Lament for a Maker has been recognized as a classic for years. Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, included it on a 1947 list of best detective stories. It was selected for the “Top 100 Crime Novels of the 20th Century” by The Times in 2000.

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