A two-bit con-man is thrown in at the deep end as a desperate hunt takes place in Oxford in this gripping tale. The thrilling climax takes place in the vaults of the Bodeleian.
©2012 Michael Innes (P)2012 Audible Ltd
This story has the oddest beginning - I had no idea what was going on and gave up on it for a while (my fiance did the same). However, if you do persevere it really is worth it. An exciting and fast paced second half.
I have read only one other Michael Innes, so I was a little unsure what to expect. Operation Pax however did not disappoint. Whilst the start is slow, it catches the imagination and reels you in so that by the middle of the book I had stopped questioning why and was eager for the next instalment. The whole oozes the feel of the late 40's/post war whilst not wallowing.
Innes descriptions of Oxford ensure that the city becomes a character in it's own right and the climax brought all the separate storylines together in a very satisfactory manner. The book itself is fabulously written, articulate and erudite without patronising. All in all a rollickingly good read I would recommend to all.
The subject, Ralph, is not a likeable person and the plot is incredibly surreal and unlikely. I found myself unable to get any sort of purchase on what was going on and lost interest after trying to persevere for several hours. Other reviewers say the same but keep going a its worth it, but I am sorry, a book has to grip me from the start and this didn't in any shape of form. I have absolutely no interest in what happened next. I am an avid fan of Haruki Murakami whose plots twist and turn in a very surreal manner, but this one by Innes just didn't hit the spot.
Of course, it could all be a satire of the mystery story but, if so, it is very weak or a great deal has been lost in our understanding of generic conventions since publication in 1951.
Yes, see below.
The problem wasn't the reader.
Like many academics who turn to fiction, Michael Innes (J. I. M. Stewart) exploits academic stereotypes for satire but, in the end (the very end of “Operation Pax”), defends university institutions, here, the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The structure for the first half is intriguing because we start off with the situation of a petty con-man; then meet an exiled German; then a pair of Oxford academics, eccentric and off-putting (as all “dons” seem to be); and finally Jane Appleby, an undergraduate and the sister of Sir John Appleby, Deputy-Commissioner at Scotland Yard. Their stories gradually intersect and draw us to the criminal activities behind the walls and electric fences of Milton Manor. The villainous – it soon becomes dastardly - conspiracy to render docile whole populations of the post-1945 world through the operation of a secret bio-chemical formula is located (in much the same manner as in the television series, “The Avengers”) in an English village, Milton Porcorum – this seems to be the rationale for the chapter epigraphs from John Milton. It is also in the first half of the novel that there are revealing insights into the society of conspiracies, prejudices, and other legacies of the War and it is surprising that Innes doesn’t make much of an effort to make use of this context of winning the war and yet the continuing resentments. But what most damages the novel is that our interest in seeing how Innes has characters meet on or getting off buses or in the suburbs of north Oxford gets dissipated by the way he brings the plot together: it is Boys’ Own stuff, including some truly awful formulaic characters (a crowd of inventive and brave schoolboys, country types, plucky Jane, Appleby, himself, when he dives into a muddy lake rather than walk round it, and, most annoying of all, Roger Remnant (??), Reliance (??) – I have already forgotten his surname.
In spite of the irritations of “Operation Pax”, which almost caused me to give it up, Michael Innes is well thought of and the writing is generally lucid. I might, therefore, try Innes’ first Inspector Appleby mysteries, ”Death at the President's Lodging” and “Hamlet, Revenge!”, to see if they are less silly and predictable, and to appreciate novels in which Inspector Appleby is more central.
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