Monday, 14 August 2000
Michael Innes: Death at the President's Lodging (1936)
Review number: 573
It is hardly surprising that this novel (about the murder of an Oxbridge college president) was retitled Seven Suspects for its American edition; its original title would clearly give a completely different impression from its actual content.
Innes uses the way that colleges like St Anthony's were shut off from the world at night time to isolate his small group of suspects - like a "submarine" as one of the characters puts it. These boundaries are usually fairly permeable; most people who have lived in a college will probably know of at least one way to get in after the gates close. St Anthony's is made more secure, so that the list of suspects is essentially the same as the list of key holders. The idea that someone may have got into the college or through another internal division is repeatedly introduced, teasingly, only to be rejected each time.
The mystery in Death at the President's Lodging must be one of the most convoluted in the whole genre of detective fiction, with several plots and deceptions carried out both by innocent and guilty parties. Innes is scrupulously fair, but I would challenge anyone to put together all the details of the solution correctly before Inspector Appleby reveals them in the last pages of the novel.
If you like this style of detection, something closely related to Agatha Christie, then you'll like this novel; if not, then you'll probably find it rather tiresome.