Underrated: In Another Life, J I M
Hanks, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
In his autobiography, Myself and Michael Innes, J I M Stewart recalls how, as an Edinburgh schoolboy in the 1920s, he was told by his headmaster that he might one day manage a Coral Island, but that a Treasure Island would lie "beyond the twitch of his tether": in effect, that uncomplicated adventure would be his limit, not darker shades and deeper, more memorable excitements.
Stewart himself accepts this judgement with the same rueful, deprecating tone he adopts whenever he discusses his second self: the crime-writer Michael Innes, author of some 40 novels and volumes of short stories, and creator of Inspector (later Sir John) Appleby. Others have tended to endorse his opinion. Julian Symons, in his authoritative study of crime fiction, Bloody Murder, pigeon-holes him as "the finest of the Farceurs, a writer who turns the detective story into an over-civilised joke".
Both Stewart's and Symons's points of view are easily understandable. Symons' preference is for the grimy psychological crime novel, and Innes displays a taste for the grotesque and outlandish - intelligent horses and multiple personality disorders are grist to his mill. As a novelist in his own right (his most notable work is the quintet A Staircase in Surrey) and a distinguished academic (author of the final volume of the Oxford History of English Literature), it's not unnatural that Stewart should be saddened when his achievements are overshadowed by these prankish outpourings. Both are missing something.
Stewart says that he started on detective novels because he stood in awe of "proper novels". …