This first installment of the Inspector Appleby series is a classic locked-room mystery set in the fictional St. Anthony’s college, where its president, Dr. Umpleby, has just been murdered. Because of the prominence of the victim, Inspector Appleby is summoned from Scotland Yard to assist the local police. He soon learns that the layout of the college would have made it impossible for someone without a key to access the scene of the crime. Therefore, suspicion centers around the other fellows of the college, most of whom either had a key or could easily obtain one. As Appleby begins his investigation, he notices strong tensions among these men and uncovers various professional rivalries. He also begins to realize that the case is cluttered with many side issues and diversions. But as he sifts the relevant facts from the distractions, Appleby eventually reaches a conclusion as bizarre as it is shocking.
I’ve now read two mysteries by Michael Innes, and what I’ve learned is that I love his solutions, but I’m not terribly fond of how he gets there! In most mysteries that I read, there’s not a lot of irrelevant information; every fact the detective discovers is a clue. In this book, on the other hand, much of what Appleby discovers isn’t relevant to the solution of the murder. This is certainly more realistic than, say, a Poirot mystery, but it made the reading experience more difficult for me. I also didn’t like the relative lack of character delineation. It’s been less than a month since I read this book, and already I couldn’t tell you the main suspects’ names! Nobody (including Appleby) has much personality, so the murder is more like a logic puzzle than a dramatic event involving actual human beings. All that said, I really did love the solution to this one, which got downright farcical in places! So overall, I’m glad I read this book, but I doubt I’ll get sucked into the rest of the series — which is probably a good thing!