Michael Innes, Hamlet, Revenge! 1937 ASIN: B073TZDZGN;  Michael Innes, Lament for a Maker 1938 ASIN: B0752TB2RK  In 1949, J.I.M. Stewart published a slim volume, not of poetry, but of psychoanalytic approaches to ‘Character and Motive in Shakespeare’. It’s not quite 150 pp. long, and contains not only Stewart’s thoughtful analyses of Shakespeare’s characters, but, reading between the lines, the bases of some of his own. By the time the book was published, Stewart had already written eleven crime novels, as Michael Innes, with his stalwart, intelligent, detective, John Appleby (that his own name, John Innes Mackintosh Stewart contributed two parts to his pseudonym might lead anyone to a degree of analytic explanation–though they might discover soon enough that the suite of names belonged to his mother’s family). Ipso Books are bringing the Appleby series back into print, in more or less chronological order, and at reasonable prices for Kindle copies. I first made Appleby’s acquaintance when studying Shakespeare as an undergraduate; to my astonishment, my teacher generously lent me a green Penguin, Hamlet, Revenge! (admonishing me to take particular good care of it). It was the wackiest, most gripping, combination of analysis of the play and playing with several kinds of analysis that I’d come across. Rereading it—always a risk—has been a treat. It’s still wacky, but the literary and theatrical analysis is even better with age (mine, not the book’s). Imagine, a country house amateur dramatic event with a couple of serious Shakespearean actors to carry the burden, disrupted by a shot and the theft of a document that had been carried in the costume of the elderly statesman playing elderly Polonius. There is plenty of in-period sub-plotting, country-housery, and young love. There’s also a wonderful Scottish gardener who’s an aficionado of Shakespeare and has his own take on the play (he is cast as a gravedigger). One of the striking features of Innes’s plotting is the way he seemed inevitably to find a solution that strained credulity, even for a country house murder. This is no exception, and carries its Green Penguinary with pride.  

Lament for a Maker is another kettle of fish, though it shares something of the Scottish Castle locked-rooms mystery, with varieties of twists coming out of and into the stone work in a kind of Scottish Gothic. The book seems to have been written largely in order to celebrate William Dunbar’s long memorial celebration of his dead fellow-poets, ‘Lament for the Makaris’, with its ghoulish refrain, ‘Timor mortis conturbat me’. It is winter, it has been and continues snowing; lochs are freezing, and almost ten miles from the nearest village an elderly Laird is making himself as unloved and unlovable as possible, with a very few retainers, including the factor (who makes Lurch look civilised) and his crazed spouse. Already one young woman has fled, and his niece (if she is his niece) is on the point of eloping with a handsome young man who belongs to a family—now sunk to the state of crofters–that belongs to a 500 hundred year old feud with the Laird. There are several narrators, including one who appeared previously in Hamlet, Revenge! The first narrator is a depiction of someone who takes Laland Scots for granted, and he is not the easiest writer to read. Like the cobbler, Hans Sachs, in Wagner’s Meistersinger, he has a great deal of wisdom, and even more canniness. In the shared memoir of Michael Innes and J.I.M. Stewart, there is a mention of the year after graduating from Oxford, without anything in the way of future plans, beyond spending a year in Austria. I would like to think it was because of Freud, but may just be my imagination.

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