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Publisher's Summary

Successful minor poet, Philip Ploss, lives a peaceful existence in ideal surroundings, until his life is upset when he hears verses erroneously quoted as his own. Soon afterwards, he is found dead in the library with a copy of Dante's Purgatory open before him.

©2012 Michael Innes (P)2012 Audible Ltd

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  • Nancy J
  • Tornado Alley OK
  • 05-10-14

Good World War II Espionage Tale

In "The Secret Vanguard," the 5th book in the Appleby series, Michael Innes starts the plot with a dead poet, then takes us on a wild ride around the English countryside as it was in 1940. Characters are kidnapped by strange foreigners, escapes are engineered, then escapees have to play desperate games of evasion, only to be caught again. As the story goes along, you are told that these bad guys are German agents, and if you stay alert, you will be told how all of this is tied to the murdered poet. The story is great fun, and reminds me a bit of "The Thirty-nine Steps" by John Buchan, which dealt with World War I spies in England.

I enjoy Innes's literate writing, his plots and his characters, especially Inspector Appleby, who is ordered by the Government to join in the chase after the Germans. Matt Addis delivers his usual excellent narration in this story, performing in both educated and regional working class accents in a polished and effective manner.

An excellent way to spend a day or two (or a long drive) listening.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Depends on what you're looking for...

I believed this would be a literary mystery, but it is really a wartime thriller circa 1939. If that is what you are looking for, it is quite good of its kind. But that is not the sort of story I like to read. This is my fault for never reading reviews before I chose a mystery, so I have only myself to blame.

If I might explain...

Poet Philip Ploss lives an apparently comfortable, circumscribed existence on an estate in the Chiltern Hills. The opening chapter about him is lyrical and idyllic. Then we find he has been murdered.

In his house Dante's Purgatorio is open at Canto XXX: this is the 8th Circle, 10th Bolgia, the place of false witnesses, wicked impersonators, and counterfeiters.

Appleby and his friend Ambrose Heatherton, the archaeologist, discuss the case in their "customary place of refection." The crime appears entirely motiveless.

Clues leads to a library in Mecklenburg Square, replete with archaic denizens. We see a beautiful woman on a train reading Sir Walter Scott, and hear another passenger quoting Swinburne. In other words, there is every reason to think the essence of the mystery is literary.

Then abruptly the viewpoint shifts to the lady reading Scott and stays with her through the rest of the book, in a story about espionage, secrets, and wartime doings.

As I say, I was disappointed in the type of the story, but the writing is first rate, Appleby is his usual delightful self, and the story is good of its kind.

Hope this helps.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great spy tale

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Secret Vanguard?

Just like The 39 Steps, this tale takes average people and throws them into a nest of German spys. What fun! I love Innes' Appleby books - you never know what you're going to get - murdering academics, the classic manor mystery, or a spy thriller. They are so much of their time and yet timeless. Not to everyone's taste, but certainly to mine.

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  • BreadintheBone
  • 07-07-14

A period piece, and excellent

I have to say, first of all, that Michael Innes has always been one of my favourite mystery writers. Dorothy Sayers, Innes, Crispin and a few others, and I'm not so fond of Agatha Christie.

There's a strong and intelligent heroine, a not-quite-stereotypical American and an intense spy story. The mystery isn't too mysterious, but once you're caught up in it, you don't really care.

The reading is good, too, with the characters well-deliniated and the tension maintained. I recommend this highly.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Ginger
  • 09-19-16

Shades of John Buchan

This is an adventure book rather than a detective book. Most gripping in the first half, the story suffered from too much adventure which became far fetched in the last third of the book. Nevertheless a pleasant read. As always Michael Innes writes well and evocatively of the country around - this time of the Highlands of Scotland.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Melissa
  • 07-08-15

Thoroughly enjoyable - a nice surprise :)

I usually like the Appleby stories because of their literary and slow-paced Style but this story came as a delightful surprise! Espionage, guns, poetry and fast-paced action (for Appleby) caught me by surprise and I now have a new favourite John Innes to add to my library. Similar in feel to 39 Steps with a lighter touch - lovely!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful