Mystery Books

Mystery Movies

Mystery Authors

Michael Innes biography




Michael Innes

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart

(1906 - 1994)

Scottish novelist, educator, and scholar, who became better known as mystery writer Michael Innes. Stewart's witty, playful mystery stories, written in a highly literate prose, are classics of the genre. His hero was Inspector Appleby, who later becomes Sir John, retired Scotland Yard Commissioner. In 1987 the critic H.R.F. Keating included APPLEBY'S END (1945) among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. Stewart also produced academic monographs, including the final volume of the Oxford History of English Literature .

"To Appleby one could well apply the words which Michael Innes, writing under his own name in the novella The Man Who Wrote Detective Stories , employs to describe that hero: 'He loved tumbling out scraps of poetry from a ragbag collection in his mind - and particularly in absurd and extravagant contexts.' In Appleby's End our sleuth is whirled up and down, round and round, in as fantastical a situation as anyone could wish - all all the while out tumble the scraps of poetry." (from Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books by H.R.F. Keating, 1987)

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart was born near Edinburgh as the son of John Stewart and Elizabet Jane (nee Clark) of Nairn. His father was a lawyer and director of Education in the city of Edinburg. Stewart attended Edinburgh Academy, where Robert Louis Stevenson had been a pupil for a short time. At Oriel College, Oxford, Stewart studied English. Among his undergraduate contemporaries were Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden. He won the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize and was named a Bishop Frazer's scholar. After graduation in 1929 he went to Vienna where he studied Freudian psychoanalysis for a year. Stewart's first book, an edition of Florio's translation of Montaigne , got him a lectureship at the University of Leeds (1930-1935). Stewart was married in 1932 Margaret Harwick, who created a career as a doctor. They had five children, one of them the novelist Angus Stewart, author of Sandel (1968).

From 1936 Stewart was a professor of English at the University of Adelaide, in South Australia. While travelling from Liverpool to Adelaide, Stewart wrote his first mystery story, DEATH AT THE PRESIDENT'S LODGING (1936). His second, HAMLET, REVENGE! (1937), confirmed his reputation as a highly entertaining and cultivated writer. In the story a murder occurs in the context of a theatrical performance of Hamlet. The key document in the case is Shakespeare's play itself.

"Appleby remembered his uncle George, who used to recite at parties a poem beginning 'A chieftain to the Highlands bound' - and at 'bound' bound into the middle of the room... Fate did not come like that. On the great stage the common traffic of life was proceeding with an even, untroubled rhythm - and then Fate was there , his entrance unnoticed, his menace waiting to strike home."
(from Hamlet, Revenge! )

After World War II Stewart returned to England. He spent two years at Queen's University in Belfast. There he wrote THE JOURNEYING BOY (1949), notable for the richly comedic use of Irish setting. In 1949 he was appointed as Student of Christ Church, Oxford, and from 1969 to 1973 Stewart also held the position of Reader in English Literature of Oxford University. Upon retirement, he became professor emeritus. Stewart died on November 12, 1994, at the age of eighty-eight. His last mystery, APPLEBY AND THE OSPREYS, appeared in 1986.

"It has always been possible to make a gentleman in three generations; nowadays - when families are smaller and the upper class has to be recruited hastily - the thing is done in two. Nevertheless remote ancestors continue to be prized; the remoter they are the more proudly we regard them." (from A Comedy of Terrors , 1940)

Stewart published some 50 mystery novels, short stories, several novels and studies in literature, biographies, and plays. His best known detective character is John Appleby, whose cases took him onto the campuses of the great universities or to chase criminals in the tradition of John Buchan , Stewart's fellow Scot. During his career Appleby rises from inspector to knighted commissioner. Over the years he also acquires a wife, sculptor Judith Raven. Appleby has good manners, he likes to quote poetry, and seldom takes fingerprints. Later Stewart replaced Appleby by his son Bobby as in the novel AN AWKWARD LIE (1971). In DEATH AT THE CHASE (1970) Stewart took up the theme of guilt and redemption. On country walk Appleby has an encounter with the lord of a neighbouring manor, the aged Martyn Ashmore. He learns that during the war Ashmore was captured by the Nazi's and cracked under torture. This led to the massacre of many Resistance fighters. Ever since, on the anniversary of that day, an attempt is made on Ashmore's life.

'What we're considering is that there may be a kind of joke at the heart of it,' Appleby said. 'A thoroughly evil joke. But you're absolutely right about the criminal mind - or rather about any mind wrought to plan and perpetrate something like murder. Calculation and rationality can suddenly go by the board, and something quite unpremeditated, and even quite profitless and meaningless, take their place. That's why detective stories are of no interest to policemen. Their villains remain far too consistently cerebral.' (from Death at the Chase )

Another series character was the painter and reluctant detective Honeybath, whose clients are usually successful businessmen. Honeybath first appeared in THE MYSTERIOUS COMMISSION (1975). THE NEW SONIA WAYWARD (1960) was a humorous story about creative writing. Sonia Wayward, bestselling romantic novelist, dies of a sudden stroke. Her husband, Colonel Ffolliot Petticate, realizes that to maintain his comfortable way of living, Sonia's litetary output must continue. Stewart's attempts as a 'serious' novelist did not gain such acclaim as his mysteries. His model was C.P. Snown and Henry James, whose style influenced his essay MARK LAMBERT' SUPPER. In 1974-79 appeared the 'quintet' A STAIRCASE IN SURREY which had University of Oxford as its main subject, the central character was Duncan Patullo. Among Stewart's other works are EIGHT MODERN WRITERS (1962), his paramount academic contribution to the Oxford History of English Literature , RUDYARD KILPING (1966), THOMAS HARDY: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY (1972). Stewart's autobiography MYSELF AND MICHAEL INNES appeared in 1987.

Information source: wikipedia