Mystery review: Appleby on Ararat by Michael Innes

Genre: Mystery thriller
Year of publication: 1941
No. in series: 7
Series detective: John Appleby
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: An unnamed island in the Pacific during World War 2

Appleby and six others are shipwrecked in the Pacific when their passenger ship is torpedoed. They end up on an island that at first seems deserted, but then one of them is murdered and it really seems impossible that one of them could have done it. Shortly afterwards, one of the group discovers a hotel at the other end of the island, and Appleby meets an archaeologist on the beach. At the hotel another murder is committed, and a group of natives attack the hotel. Appleby has by now figured out what is going on, but I will not go into it as it would be a spoiler.

This is my first Appleby book. I have read one other Innes book, The Journeying Boy which I enjoyed, but found a bit confusing because halfway through it shifted genres, from a mystery to a thriller. This book does the same, not once but twice. It begins as a lightly comic Robinson Crusoe adventure that seems set to turn into a desert island mystery, then becomes a country house mystery, and finally turns into a war thriller.

I had been expecting a straight-forward mystery, but found my expectations challenged, fortunately in a good way. Innes breaks the rules repeatedly, peppers the narrative with obscure literary references, writes funny and interesting characters, hides clues in such a way that the reader is kept constantly on her toes, and drops Latin like he thinks everyone can understand it. Some of these I consider to be good points, others not so good. The plot involving the bad guys, while imaginative and apt for the time of writing, is unfortunately one of the points I didn’t like. But taken altogether I enjoyed the book more than I didn’t.

Rating: A confusing but enjoyable mystery thriller. 3 stars.


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