First published: UK, Gollancz, 1949; US, Dodd, Mead, 1949, as The Case of the Journeying Boy
A first-class thriller strongly reminiscent of Hitchcock. Like Innes’s best work, it is “milder sensational fiction, nicely top-dressed with a compost of literature and the arts, which is produced by idle persons living in colleges and rectories”. Happily, Innes avoids his usual habit of having “the situation…degenerate from melodrama into rough-and-tumble farce.”
The plot is told from two (later three) perspectives, and deals with the assassination of a public school teacher and a dazzling scheme of impersonation in order to kidnap a physicist’s son, who is the hero. The boy and replacement tutor are seen from one angle (action / adventure), while the mystery of the tutor’s death is investigated by Inspector Cadover (from What Happened at Hazelwood). This technique of the shift in emphasis adds to, rather than detracts from, the story, and keeps the reader from becoming bored (not that there’s much chance of that in this tale of midnight excursions, dream sequences on trains invoking The Lady Vanishes, and showdowns at burning Irish manor-houses).
The mystery plot is subservient to the thriller, but there is a good scattering of suspicion and doubt throughout. As one of the characters remarks, “the basis of success in this trade is to keep on suspecting everybody all the time. But, of course, there has to be a limit to it.”
And Innes does manage to keep the plot under control, and to make the thriller thrill. Full marks also for the Irish dialogue, which is nearly as good as the Scots in Lament for a Maker.
Times Literary Supplement (24th June 1949):
Mr. Thewless, fifty-ish, honest, scholarly, accepts the post of holiday tutor to the wayward but highly intelligent son of an eminent physicist. Their destination is a country house in a remote region of western Ireland, but before ever they leave Euston both tutor and pupil have experienced premonitions of disaster, and long before Heysham has been reached they have become the objects of unwelcome attention from unknown enemies. By ingeniously letting his readers into half of the mystery Mr. Innes gives them the pleasure of watching Detective-Inspector Cadover (successor to Appleby) unravel the affair from the London end at the same time that events are moving to their violent climax across the Irish Sea. The author is in his happiest vein and his allusive, imaginative style shows to full advantage in accounts of the hazards of travel on Irish light railways and of country house life on the west coast, as well as in many descriptive passages of considerable power—notably Mr. Thewless’s nocturnal adventure with unseen assailants and his charge’s encounter with kidnappers in a cave on the sea-shore.
New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 23rd July 1949):
Brief reference to the four thrillers will suffice. Two of them are so brilliant that it would be a shame to give away their plots. The other two are so inferior to their authors’ previous reputation that silence is the kindest criticism. Mr. Innes has surpassed himself in The Journeying Boy, a dashing adventure story with a precocious schoolboy for its hero. “Mystery, Detection, Character and Suspense,” says the dust cover—truthfully for once. Can you wish for more at a gulp?