Monday, May 7, 2018

Michael Innes' The Secret Vanguard

The Secret Vanguard is a John Appleby mystery by Michael Innes from 1941. (Not yet Sir John Appleby.)
"Ploss," said John Appleby, deliberately. "Philip Ploss, the Cow-and-Gate poet. Who would want, now, to shoot a quiet fellow like that?"
But that (on page 8) is just about the last mystery-ish moment in this one. It's not giving away much to say he was killed by Nazi spies. It very quickly becomes a thrilling chase for a eccentric scientist with a formula through the Scottish highlands. Speedboats and airplanes--probably to get into the spirit of the thing I should say aeroplane--shootouts and slingshots, crofter's huts and lonely railway stations. A castle and a loch. If, as I said when I reviewed an Innes last week, he's an author that likes to have a model, the model for this one is John Buchan. Think The Thirty-Nine Steps. If it was filmed--and it could be!--it should be Alfred Hitchcock.

It's a very good chase, too, with not only John Appleby, our resourceful man from Scotland Yard, but also a plucky lass and two unworldly academics who come up to the mark when the pressure's on.

However. The plot is thrown into action when two people recognize a misquotation from Algernon Swinburne. Not just one, but two. Alright, Ploss is a poet and he may have an excuse for knowing Swinburne, but the plucky lass recognizes a Swinburne misquote, too. This strikes me as just a wee bit improbable, even in England, even in 1939. (How much Swinburne can you quote? Yeah, me, too.)

Ah, well, Michael Innes is really J. I. M. Stewart, English professor, and (at this point future) Oxford don. I guess he had some Swinburne by heart, and certainly he was able to write a few lines of misquotation that sounded like they could pass to me. Very enjoyable.

Vintage Mystery Challenge. Golden Age. What. Pseudonymous Author. Since he's been outed as an Oxford don.

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