On the eleventh day of Bookgiving, my true love gave to me:
Lament for a Maker, by Michael Innes.
In a remote castle, deep in the Scottish highlands in the dead of a winter's night, strange things are happening. The laird of the castle, widely detested as a grasping miser, roams the hallways of his castle by the light of a single candle, chanting a 500-year old Scottish poem, while plotting…what? The laird will die – but was it suicide, or accident, or murder? There, in a nutshell, you have the central problem of the novel Lament for a Maker, by Michael Innes.
To tell the story of the strange death of the laird of Erchany castle, Ranald Guthrie, Innes uses a series of narrators, each of whom reveals a portion of the story. It's the same technique used by Willkie Collins to tell the story of The Moonstone. The result is a narrative written in a variety of styles, which peels away the mysteries of the events in the novel very much like peeling the layers of an onion. It is to Michael Innes’s credit that he provides each narrative in a different and appropriate style for the narrator. From the Scottish shoemaker Ewan Bell, whose narratives will open and close the book, you will get Scottish dialect – and a familiarity with some Scottish vocabulary will be helpful here; think Robert Louis Stevenson and Kidnapped. From an English traveler who happens on the scene, you get a flippant commentary on the events he observes. From the detective, John Appleby, you get a more clinical view of events. The case eventually is “solved” – in fact, it is solved several times over – but each solution in turn is destroyed by further revelations, and the ultimate unraveling of the story is deeply shocking and poignant, even as it is satisfying. Just when you (and the characters) think you finally understand what has really happened, there will be a plot twist that will take your breath away.
Michael Innes had a long and prolific career. His writing is erudite and witty. His plots sometimes border on the surreal - wait until you meet "the learned rats" - but he can also create a wonderful atmosphere of terror. Lament for a Maker was his third book, first published in 1938, and I have always liked it best among all of his novels. It is available as a House of Stratus trade paperback, and there is a Kindle edition as well, and I'm pretty sure other e-book versions are available for other readers.
(If you came in late, here's what we're doing for bookgiving - I hope you'll join in!)