The true identity of detective novelist Michael Innes

Academic created a series detective who went on to have a 50-year career

The cover of the Agora Books edition of the first Appleby novel
The cover of the Agora Books
edition of the first Appleby novel
Michael Innes, who has entertained millions of crime fiction fans with his novels and short stories featuring Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Appleby, was also a distinguished academic who was well known for his works of literary criticism.

Innes, who was born in 1906 in Edinburgh, 116 years ago today, was, in fact, John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, who became a university professor and published more than 20 contemporary novels and volumes of short stories under his real name.

Between 1936 and 1986, Stewart, writing under the pseudonym, Michael Innes, also published nearly 50 crime novels and short stories.  

The author had attended Edinburgh Academy and went on to study English Literature at Oriel College, Oxford. He went to Vienna to study psychoanalysis and on his return became a lecturer in English at the University of Leeds.

He became Jury Professor in English at the University of Adelaide in South Australia and then a lecturer in English at the Queen’s University of Belfast.

In 1949, he became a Student of Christ Church, Oxford, a position that was the equivalent of being a Fellow at other Oxford colleges. He was a professor of the university by the time of his retirement from academia in 1973.

Innes was able to use his knowledge of university life as the setting for his first Appleby novel, Death at the President’s Lodging, which features a murder at a fictitious college belonging to a fictitious university.

The reader first sees Appleby being driven out of Scotland Yard in ‘a great yellow Bentley’ to the crime scene in the President’s Lodging at St Anthony’s College, which purports to be at a university situated in the vicinity of Bletchley, about halfway between Oxford and Cambridge. A useful line-drawing of a map showing the layout of St Anthony’s had been provided for the reader at the beginning of the book.

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart - alias Michael Innes - pictured in 1973
John Innes Mackintosh Stewart - alias
Michael Innes - pictured in 1973
In the first paragraph on the first page, Innes announces that the President of St Anthony’s College, Josiah Umpleby, has been found murdered in his lodging.  Appleby has been quickly dispatched on the orders of the Home Secretary to take over from the local Inspector and handle the investigation.

Inspector Dodd, who is an old friend of Appleby’s, explains that the college is locked up at the same time every night and only a small, select group have their own keys and would have been able to access the President’s Lodging. He shows Appleby the dead body, still lying in the President’s library, with its head swathed in a black, academic gown, next to a skull and a scattering of human bones.

By the end of the first chapter, Appleby has realised he is up against an ingenious and somewhat whimsical murderer. The scene has been set and the hunt is on, with the reader able to sit back and enjoy the rest of the novel.

The story is told in an entertaining writing style and Innes allows his own interest in the genre of detective stories to shine through in conversations Appleby has with the dons while staying in their college as a guest.

Death at the President's Lodging is available from or


No comments:

Post a Comment