Monday, 1 June 1998

Michael Innes: Hamlet, Revenge! (1931)

Edition: Gollancz
Review number: 58

This is a much earlier Appleby novel than the two Michael Innes books I had read previously, and much more in the detective fiction mould than the thriller mould of Operation Pax. In fact, the background to Hamlet, Revenge! is about as archetypal as you can get: an amateur dramatic performance of Hamlet during a country house house-party at which the actor playing a character who is killed (in this case Polonius) is actually murdered.

Everything is on a rather large scale; the amateur dramatic performance includes as Hamlet the greatest professional actor of the day, Melville Clay; the country house is at Scamnum Court, modelled on Blenheim Palace and seat of the Duke of Horton; Polonius is not killed by a sword stroke from Hamlet but is killed by a gunshot at the moment when his stage death would happen; and the fact that Polonius is played by Lord Auldearn, a major political figure currently co-ordinating some top secret defence work means that an espionage thread can be worked into the plot. The murderer has also been rather cheeky, by sending warning messages in apparently easily traced ways, and by taking apparently reckless risks.

I enjoyed John Appleby's unravelling of the plot greatly, and will be reading more to fill in his career from this early novel to the late ones like Silence Observed.

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