Appleby Plays Chicken (Michael Innes)

By Michael Innes

First published: UK, Gollancz, 1956; US, Dodd, Mead, 1957, as Death on a Quiet Day

My review

Rather weak Innes. Opens admirably with a reading-party, descriptions of lonely walks on Dartmoor, and the discovery of an unknown corpse, but soon degenerates into a standard chase — standard thriller stuff, not very imaginative. The reader shares the hero’s belief that “they were all wildly excited. But he didn’t feel that way at all. He supposed he’d had enough.” Things pick up somewhat with Appleby at the helm, investigating the murder of his former chief, but the solution is silly, unconvincing, convoluted, improbable and poorly explained.

Contemporary reviews

Manchester Guardian (Francis Iles, 1st March 1957):

Like his colleague Mr. Masterman, Mr. Michael Innes’s appeal is to the intelligence, sometimes almost too much so; but in Appleby Plays Chicken he tells a straightforward story, based upon blackmail.  Straightforward, that is, for this author; for there are the usual pleasant Innes quirks, such as an exhausted fugitive coming suddenly upon a point-to-point race and making his escape by mounting a riderless horses and joining in.  As usual, too, the author enjoys himself vastly in the person of Sir John Appleby; and since Mr. Innes is not so demned elusive this time the reader enjoys himself, too.


Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 1st March 1957):

In Mr. Michael Innes’s Appleby Plays Chicken an Oxford reading party, with its headquarters at Nymph Monachorum on Dartmoor, spends an evening playing the dangerous American game of Chicken—Russian roulette, as it were, played with a motor car.  The following day one of the team finds himself in danger that is far from gamesome.  Appleby, however, is on the watch: he puts in a providential appearance, armed with a shooting-stick that certainly justifies its name, and takes over the whole operation with a combination of qualities that would have appealed equally to Fenimore Cooper and Conan Doyle.  Ingenuous young men dash about very creditably; disingenuous old ones are equally spry.  Good humour abounds and the scenes of flight and pursuit are appropriately exciting.


Observer (Maurice Richardson, 3rd March 1957):

Undergraduate on reading-party finds corpse on tor, is chased by spies, rescued by Appleby.  Lots of dashing about moors on foot and in old cars, with a whodunnit plot neatly tied up with characters in the reading-party’s hotel.  Very satisfactory example of Mr. Innes’s new thrillerish don-into-boyscout style.