The Weight of the Evidence
by Michael Innes

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a John Appleby mystery

Dodd, Mead: New York, 1943
250 pages

Gollancz: London, 1944
168 pages

January 2016


Stone falls from the sky. In Michael Innes' mystery novel The Weight of the Evidence we have an unusual if not unique means of death: a substantial meteorite kills a professor in a English university courtyard. Of course a meteorite as we have here, descending all the way through Earth's atmosphere would be quite hot and have an impact that would punch a hole in the pavement, not simply smash the man who happened to be beneath it. So this stone must not have fallen all the way through the sky; nevertheless, it was a meteorite, and did fall, and did kill a man.

An intriguing puzzle! The Weight of the Evidence has interesting characters, with a clutch of assorted secrets and misdirections getting in the way of solving the murder. For it is clear early on that it could not have been an accident.

Unfortunately, the novel has two major problems. One is general to this series, for Michael Innes' detective John Appleby is for me one of the most remote and colorless of all the long-series British detectives. We may not mind too much if the novel is excellent otherwise.

However, the plot in The Weight of the Evidence does not fly very well, and I think fails quite heavily at the end — which I will not spoil here in case you read the novel. It's as though a stage magician, not content with the customary pulling rabbits out of his hat, here pulls half-way out a bouncy kangaroo; but then as a finale, stuffs the lively kangaroo back in the hat and pulls out a dead possum. The imaginative premise and the tangle of characters seem to have been conjured up for nothing much. Certainly a memorable novel, but ill-starred.

You may find the plot wrap-up reasonable, or your impression of the trick finale may be more generous. I say it's a dead possum.


© 2016 Robert Wilfred Franson

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