Sir John Appleby wasn't inclined to take the whole thing very seriously at first. He had happened to be with his wife attending an exclusive private art show at a London gallery when someone rather audaciously stole a very large painting, practically from under his nose. Frankly, it might well have been a publicity stunt. Certainly the stolen painting didn't appear to be of much value - or did it? And the man who painted the picture had recently committed suicide - or was it possibly murder?, It wouldn't take very long to come up with a rather grim answer. And then a young woman, a close friend of the artist, disappeared as well, and everything would prove to be linked - and lead to something a great deal more serious than it had first appeared.
And so begins another fine Michael Innes novel, A Private View, featuring Sir John Appleby, by this time in his career an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard. A Private View is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here. Like so many other books by Innes, this one, originally published in 1952, is very hard to classify. I’d say it’s more thriller than detective story. We are given revelation after revelation – often at the end of chapters, serving as excellent cliff-hangers. And as each mysterious point appears to be explained, we discover another complication which must be cleared up before the mystery can be solved.
As is often the case with Michael Innes, in addition to a complicated and often funny plot, we are treated to a great deal more. Appleby’s wife Judith will play a very significant role in uncovering the truth. So will Appleby’s close colleague and friend at Scotland Yard, Detective Inspector Cadover, who will largely take over the case. And as for Appleby…well you’ll have to read the book to find out.
This isn’t the most memorable Appleby story, but it is extremely well and carefully written, with a great deal of the kind of humor and wild surrealism we expect to find in a Michael Innes book. The art world comes in for a lot of pointed satire, and some of the climactic sequences in the plot sound a bit like slow-motion Keystone Cops – type action. And there is more than enough of that action to keep the reader turning the pages to see what happens next. Murder, thefts, abductions, car chases, even gun battles – there's something for everyone here!
I’m not saying a lot about the plot, because so much of the pleasure in A Private View comes from the unexpected twists and revelations you'll encounter. I’d suggest settling down with the book on a chilly evening and just relaxing into it.