First published: US, Dodd, Mead, 1943; UK, Gollancz, 1944
From beginning to end, this Appleby tale set in a university is a sheer delight to read, due to the excellent dialogue, the humour, the interesting and amusing characters, and the maze of bizarre and mystifying events, involving meteorites, love affairs, and false beards. In some respects, it is very similar to Carr’s Arabian Nights Murder. Although Innes proves himself adept at false theories and misleading clues, the ending is an anti-climax.
The weight of the evidence was, curiously enough, a meteorite which someone let fall on a professor in a provincial English university, as he took his midday siesta near the fountain in the courtyard. “Trace the meteorite,” suggested a young man glibly to John Appleby of Scotland Yard who was conducting the investigation. “Question his landlady, a sinister gentlewoman called Dearlove,” advised another. “Discover who hung the skeleton in the maze and inquire into what’s happened to Timmy Church’s girl,” added a third. In pursuit of these and other equally distracting clues, Appleby follows his course through dusty storerooms and ducal residences, mingling with and cross-questioning quaint and wormy scholars, until the plan is eventually revealed to him of how the crime was committed – or wasn’t!
“More real wit, sparkle and zest than any other detective story of the year” has been the repeated verdict on earlier Innes novels. This latest detective story still further confirms Michael Innes’ position as one of the most brilliant and amusing of detective story writers.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 15th April 1944):
CLUES AMONG THE CLASSICS
What the police owe to the detective story might be worth looking into. Very probably the glamour of fiction has made distinction at New Scotland Yard as enviable as at other celebrated places in Whitehall. Now this influence of fiction on fact rebounds, so that Sherlock Holmes’s successors are becoming more and more superior and more and more against amateur standing. The scholarship of Inspector Appleby, for example, becomes increasingly imposing. In The Weight of the Evidence he is more than a match for all the outstanding intellects of Nesfield University, where a biochemist of some eminence has been found dead beneath a meteorite. The Duke of Nesfield questions the victim’s identity, but this is emphatically not just another story to add to the recent batch about corpses battered beyond recognition. “Those tawdry fictions,” Appleby calls them, which is a clear hint that Mr. Innes intends his book for readers who, to quote the language of the university, have an “ability to do Advanced Work”. Innocents who shy at jokes in Latin, references to the Law of Falling Bodies and to the death of Aeschylus ought to be given fair warning that the atmosphere of a provincial seat of learning is as thick as a pea-souper in these extraordinarily clever pages. If that is no bar to enjoyment, then Appleby’s adventures in search of clues among the classics may be strongly recommended for its sturdy independence and originality.