Stewart, J(ohn) I(nnes) M(ackintosh) (Vol. 14)
Stewart, J(ohn) I(nnes) M(ackintosh) 1906–
Stewart is a British novelist, critic, and short story writer. As Michael Innes, he has written crime novels centering on academic and aristocratic characters involved in remarkably intricate plots. In the fiction appearing under his own name, he often considers the artist in society. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)
[Michael Innes certainly gave his books a thick] coating of urbane literary conversation, rather in the manner of Peacock strained through or distorted by Aldous Huxley. The Innes books were immediately acclaimed as something new in detective fiction from the publication in 1935 of Death at the President's Lodging, a title with misleading implications for the United States, where it was rather tamely renamed Seven Suspects. The Times Literary Supplement said that he was a newcomer who at once took his place in the front rank and, with the publication of Hamlet, Revenge! (1936), called him "in a class by himself among writers of detective fiction."
There was actually...
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AGATE NESAULE KROUSE and MARGOT PETERS
The outrageous punning on Professor Pluckrose's death (The Weight of the Evidence, 1944), the flamboyant and likable professorial forger of The Long Farewell (1958), and the amusing escapades of the Patriarchs at Oxford (A Family Affair, 1969) testify to Innes's essential reverence for university tradition and innocence. He takes it for granted that his professors' learning is vast, their integrity almost unchallengeable, and their flaws not serious enough to discredit their calling.
A late Innes story seems to reveal a change of attitude. In An Awkward Lie (1971), Innes follows Bobby Appleby, son of the famous quotation-capping detective Sir John, back to his old prep...
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["Honeybath's Haven"] is a leisurely, traditional British mystery in which page after page is spent establishing character. Not until more than halfway through is there, finally, a murder. There are the required eccentrics and Dickensian types…. The prose is stately and Victorian…. It's all very civilized and, unfortunately, also a bit labored.
Newgate Callendar, "Crime: 'Honeybath's Haven'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 11, 1978, p. 35.
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Full Term is the last of Stewart's five Oxford novels, and the closing chapters are full of poignant narrative knottings. Like most of his fiction, it's extremely well-constructed and contains some genuinely funny characters….
What makes it hard to take, especially in the early pages before you get acclimatised, is the ponderous archaism of the style. Pattullo, the narrator, is supposed to be a temporary Fellow, imported only a year ago from his London life as a successful dramatist. But this is a dramatist who thinks stage electricians still talk about rheostats, who refers to people nearby as being 'within bow-shot', whose friends say things like 'This is a damned rum place, Pattullo', and...
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[On the whole, Full Term] does not contain as many intricate side plots and proliferating confusions as [Stewart's] earlier novels, but the dramatic high points, when they come, are devastating in their effect: Ranald McKechnie, the remote classical don married to the woman Pattullo once loved, at last struck down by his mechanical leaf-gathering and scrub cutting monster; Fiona, with whom Pattullo has been conducting a muffled and elusive affair, finally rejecting his tentative proposal in an enraged out-burst of masterly irony.
To someone new to the series [Stewart's Oxford novels]—and there cannot be many at this late stage—this volume will not be particularly accessible. There are few...
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J.I.M. Stewart's compilation of stories, Our England is a Garden,… charts the loss of certain English values the author clearly prizes…. Stewart seems unwilling to face the present: when we are told, in the second story (about a don invited to write his autobiography), that 'the best English memoirs, after all, had been written long ago, and he had read pretty well every one of them while still an under-graduate', the implicit attitude is that Culture belongs to the past. No wonder Stewart's Professor Mannering notices that 'a tremendous amount of nonsense is written about literature, even more than is written about history'. We know what literature is, dammit: you read it when you're an undergraduate, and...
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[To turn] to the prim, crusty, Ciceronian rectitude of J.I.M. Stewart's four long stories [in 'Our England Is a Garden'] is to seem to travel sharply backwards in time and downwards in temperature. So jocularly urbane is the archaic narrative, so blandly resting on Edwardian class assumptions, that at times it seems almost to be parodying itself.
Mr Stewart is ironic at the expense of those who live in the past, and his stories—about the downfall of a stately home, the humiliation of elderly academics—show the inevitable enfeebling of traditions. But he has not himself given up to what he calls 'classlessness.'
The stories have, as is to be expected, efficient amusing twists,...
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