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Innes, Michael

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym used by Scots author and academic J I M Stewart (1906-1994) for his many detective and thriller novels published from 1936 to 1986, often featuring series character John Appleby in various official roles from detective-inspector to Sir John Appleby, Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, and onward through a long, active retirement. Though fantastical and donnishly whimsical, these tales normally keep sf devices at arm's length, as with the distant threat of Disaster through man-made Pandemic carried by migratory birds in Hare Sitting Up (1959); his apprehension that the worst might happen here inspires Appleby into New Zealander imagery, an adumbration also voiced in the earlier, nonfantastic From London Far (1946). A partial exception is Operation Pax (1951; vt The Paper Thunderbolt 1951), in which the effects of Drugs created by Mad Scientists to eliminate human aggression are briefly but disquietingly shown. The Appleby thriller The Daffodil Affair (1942) centres on a freakish scheme to gain world power in anticipated post-World War Two chaos by exploiting superstition with the aid of paranormally "gifted" animals and humans (not all the latter, it is implied, being fraudulent), plus a supposedly haunted house once investigated by Samuel Johnson, all transported to South America as intended props for a synthetic Religion. Some of Innes's thrillers, beginning with The Secret Vanguard (1940) and including his personal favourite, the non-Appleby The Journeying Boy (1949; vt The Case of the Journeying Boy 1949), are intensely fantasticated adventures clearly indebted to John Buchan. In what may be a first for crime fiction, the sound of a fatal shot in The Journeying Boy is masked by that of a nuclear explosion (a cinematic effect rather than a real one). Although Poltergeist activity is presented as a plausible explanation of household disruption in "Poltergeist" (in The Appleby File coll 1975), this proves to be a criminally motivated deception.

Of the more literary fictions written by Stewart under his own name, "Poor Chowder" (in The Man Who Wrote Detective Stories, coll 1959) deals ironically with an English family afflicted with massive radioactive contamination from nuclear material unearthed by the titular dog. "Variations of a Theme of Oscar Wilde's", assembled with mostly nonfantastic tales in My Aunt Christina and Other Stories (coll 1983), evokes (though Stewart-like does not name) J W Dunne to explain a painter's ability to create works that depict the future (see Precognition), including a Dorian-Gray-like portrait that drives its sitter mad. Two tales assembled in Parlour 4 and Other Stories (coll 1986) contain elements of the fantastic: Precognition again in "Pipkin Grove"; and contagious dyslexia that afflicts the whole of Oxford, possibly engineered by a Mad Scientist, in "The Dyslexia Factor".

At least two volumes of the author's nonfantastic sequence A Staircase in Surrey (1974-1978) feature appearances by Dr J B Timbermill, a figure clearly based on J R R Tolkien. [DRL]

see also: Paul Gallico.

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart

born Edinburgh, Scotland: 30 September 1906

died Coulsdon, Greater London: 12 November 1994

works (highly selected)


John Appleby

individual titles




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