Friday, March 9, 2012

Hare Sitting Up

"You yourself, don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?" (Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence)

In Hare Sitting Up, Michael Innes gives the old "which twin is which" plot a nifty little twist. He has created the Junipers...who first started their joke of taking each other's place back in school--with one twin playing Rugger in his brother's place and not in just any old game, but an international Rugger match. And all kinds of larks of that sort.

Fast forward to the present day. Brother Howard, now an eminent scientist with loads of knowledge about biological warfare, has gone missing. Possibly with a pocketful of poisonous petri dishes. Has he just gone off his head with a nervous breakdown? Has he been kidnapped by enemy forces? Or has he, like the character in Lawrence's Women in Love, tired of the human race and decided to use his knowledge to wipe everyone out?

It will take Sir John Appleby time to pick up the trail of the missing scientist. Time he buys by having Howard's brother Miles (currently a prep school headmaster) do one more brotherly impersonation. And it will take all of Appleby's wits to sort out the clues that must be picked up at the prep school, at the decaying estate of an eccentric bird-hoarding peer of the realm, and at a secret military base off the coast of Scotland.

But, with honest-to-goodness crooks and a certifiable crazy man dogging their heels, have the brothers switched places one too many times? Appleby finds himself in a race to save lives--maybe the brothers, maybe everyone in England.

As always with Innes, there's a bit of the bizarre going on here. The surreal conversation that Appleby has with Lord Ailsworth (the eccentric bird man) is quite enough to warrant that comment. But Innes does a superb job of combining the standard manor house mystery with a bit of the espionage thriller. And it's worth the price of admission just to watch Appleby's wife Judith infiltrate the prep school on a hunt for Howard (alive or dead...). Anyone for a game of Chinese Torturers? It was also charming (to me, anyway) to discover that this book fits my loosely defined "academic mystery" sub-genre. I'm such a sucker for books with an academic connection. Three and a half stars.

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