Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lament for a Maker: Mini-Review

Lament for a Maker (1938) would seem--from ratings on Goodreads and in the opinion of such fellow mystery writers as Nicholas Blake and Michael Gilbert--to be considered one of Michael Innes' best books. While I will agree that the mystery itself is quite nicely twisty and surprising, the journey he takes the reader on to get to that brilliant, twisty ending is a rather arduous one. The tale is told through the narratives of various characters--five in all, including his detective John Appleby--and wading through the Scots dialect of the opening narrative nearly put me off entirely. There is also a bit too much extraneous detail about matters that don't really move the story along to suit me.

At the heart of the book is the death of the eccentric recluse Ranald Guthrie the laird of Erchany who falls from the ramparts of his castle on a wild winter night. Suspicion initially rests on the young man who wished to marry Guthrie's niece, but the stories told by each of our narrators prove that there is more to the events of Christmas Eve than meets the eye. Did Guthrie commit suicide in the hopes of ruining the young man? Who was the shadowy figure seen by Miss Guthrie, the American cousin? Why was Guthrie's man Hardcastle looking for the Doctor when Miss Guthrie and Noel Gylby (stranded travelers in a snowstorm) approached Erchany? It will take the narratives of five people involved in the mystery to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Each time Appleby thinks the picture has been completed, another handful of puzzle pieces are brought to the table.

Worth reading for the mystery itself, but not, to my mind, one of Innes' absolute best. I've rated Death at the President's Lodgings, The Weight of the Evidence, and The Long Farewell each higher. I did enjoy being fooled by the final twist and I found the narrative threads by Noel Gylby and Appleby to be the most entertaining. Overall:  ★★


This fulfills the "Pseudonymous Author" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Square and gives me an eighth Bingo. Michael Innes is the pen name of J. I. M. (John Innes MacKintosh) Stewart a Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds from 1930-35 and, later, a Professor at Oxford.

 

6 comments:

neer said...

It is ages since I read an Innes. Your review wants me to pick one immediately.

fredamans said...

I like twists! Sounds like an intriguing mystery. Great review!

John said...

Arduous is exactly the word I would use to describe my experience with this book. That Scottish dialect drove me nuts! I tried twice to read this book and I never made to page 100 either time. I like THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY a lot which comes much later in Innes' mystery writing career. It's one of the strangest detective novels ever written, more of a fantasy thriller so it may not appeal to a lot of readers who have purist tastes in detective fiction.

Bev Hankins said...

John, that dialect nearly defeated me. But I kept telling myself that there were clearer passages ahead and kept on wading through the murk. Not a book that I'm likely to read again....

Les Blatt said...

Bev, I must admit that Lament for a Maker is about my favorite. I wasn't put off by the accent, but then I tend to enjoy Scottish things, songs and dialect. I thought using successive narrators, a la "Moonstone," worked very well in peeling off layer after layer of the mystery. And the learned rats were every bit as surreal as The Daffodil Affair (John, sorry if you didn't get to the rats... ;-)

Bev Hankins said...

Les: It's possible that the accent might have gone down better when I was younger (I know I read some mysteries with heavy dialects then and wasn't as bothered by it). I may be getting crotchety in my old age. ;-)