Tuesday, 14 November 2000

Michael Innes: An Awkward Lie (1952)

Edition: Penguin, 1983
Review number: 682

An Awkward Lie is more of a thriller than a detective story. It is very short, and contains one memorable piece of deduction and one memorable joke. The central character is Bobby Appleby, Sir John's son who has both won a cap for the England rugby team and written an intellectual "anti-novel" - an unusual combination. He is playing a round of golf, or, rather, intending to do so, when on the bunker near the first hole, he sees a corpse. Upon investigation, he meets a pretty woman apparently taking a walk, and goes to call the police while she stays with the body, an elderly man with a missing finger whom Bobby almost immediately identifies as one of the teachers from his prep school from long ago. However, when he returns with the police (having waited at the callbox for them, per their instructions), the body has gone, the bunker has been raked back to a pristine condition, and the woman has disappeared. All that remains is Bobby's golfball and, as the policeman remarks, this leaves him in an awkward lie. (This is, of course, the joke.)

The deduction works out the reason why the body should be left somewhere where it would obviously be discovered, but then be taken away as soon as the discovery takes place. This piece of cleverness, which I suspect was the first aspect of the novel to occur to Innes, is all that is needed to work out what has been going on, before the abrupt ending kicks in.

Though really a thriller masquerading as a crime novel, An Awkward Lie is not paced very well; it suddenly picks up near the end. Interesting, but not one of Innes' best.

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