Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Silence Observed: Review

Silence Observed (1961) is the 19th entry in Michael Innes's Sir John Appleby series. Sir John has risen to the highest echelons of Scotland Yard and is concerned with purely administrative duties. But that doesn't prevent him from being pulled into an active role in the murder of a rare books seller. It all begins innocently enough in Sir John's club (whose motto makes up the title) when two of his friends approach him over "something that is just up [his] street." Charles Gribble produces a sheaf of papers--all forgeries of works purported to be by George Meredith. Gribble isn't complaining about the forgeries. No, indeed. It seems that he has been trying to corner the market on famous forgeries and he's quite gleeful about his purchase. Until he holds one of the sheets up to the light (to point out the cleverness of the forger's attention to detail) and he discovers that somebody has produced a forgery of a forgery. He's still not looking to prosecute, however, he's just going to talk to his "book man" and find out more about the providence of the papers.

Next up, is Sir Gabriel Gulliver, a renowned art expert, who tells Sir John of an odd incident involving an unknown Rembrandt. One of the services Sir Gabriel offers through his art gallery is free inspection of family heirlooms to see if someone has a treasure hiding among their pictures. A beautiful young woman arrives with a painting under her arm and both Sir Gabriel and his assistant, an athletic young art expert, immediately recognize the master strokes of Rembrandt. They try to get the woman to leave the painting for and official indepth evaluation, but she isn't having any. She wraps up the painting and leaves them. Sir Gabriel was intrigued enough to break tradition and try to contact the woman--but he finds that she has given a false name and a fictitious address.

Sir John doesn't see how he can justify any sort of investigation into the two incidents, but his instincts tell him that something is definitely afoot. He's proven right when Gribble's "book man" is shot to death and Sir Gabriel's young assistant is found standing over the body with a gun in his hand. Sir John takes on first-hand direction of the investigation when he discovers that the young art expert was the missing guest at the dinner part Lady Appleby had given that evening. There are just too many links to too many of Sir John's acquaintances for him to stay out of it. When he finds a scrap of a painting which shows only a strikingly familiar eye, it looks like a huge forgery operation is in play. He fully enjoys being back in the hunt and eagerly follows the clues...until his investigations get a little too close to the source and the killer decides to use Lady Appleby as a shield to ensure his/her escape.

This is an unusual police procedural--not that this should surprise regular readers of Innes. He does tend to do things a little differently. We follow Sir John around as he investigates, but he really is not following procedure much. He keeps what he finds close to his chest and doesn't share it with his lead detective inspector at all. Fortunately, for the reader, we are privy to everything he finds and can make the connections necessary to come to the same conclusion (if we're paying close enough attention). Poor Inspector Parker only knows what happens in the few witness interviews that Sir John holds while he's present. 

I did enjoy the way Innes works the forgery theme throughout the book and I just generally enjoy the character of Sir John even though he's a bit eccentric at times. An enjoyable, if different police procedural. ★★ and a half.

This counts for the "Skull" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

I read loads of Innes in the past: recent re-reads have been less entertaining, I think I need to be picky - but this sounds good.