Hare Sitting Up was originally published in 1959 and is the eighteenth book in Michael Innes’ Inspector John Appleby series – the good news is that it’s absolutely not necessary to have read the first seventeen before starting this one! I have read a few of the previous books and they do all stand alone; they are also all very different and this one is different again.
The unusual title comes from Women in Love by D H Lawrence:
“You yourself, don’t you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?”
At the time when Innes was writing this novel, which was the era of the Cold War, scientists were developing ways that could make the sort of world Lawrence describes – a world free of human beings – into reality, through means such as nuclear and biological weapons. In Hare Sitting Up, Sir John Appleby is investigating the disappearance of Professor Howard Juniper, a top government scientist who has been conducting secret research into biological warfare. As there’s a chance that Juniper may have taken some of these dangerous substances out of the laboratory with him, it is important that he is found as quickly as possible and with the minimum publicity. Appleby enlists the help of Juniper’s brother Miles, a headmaster at a prestigious boys’ school – and to say any more would start to give too much of the plot away!
This book is more of a thriller than a mystery, although there are elements of both. Due to the short length, once we get past the slow opening chapter, the story moves forward at a steady pace with the action switching between the home of an eccentric ornithologist, an island off the coast of Scotland, and Splaine Croft School, where Miles Juniper works. There’s a great chapter in which Judith, Appleby’s wife, visits the school to look for clues and has to find a way to explore the buildings without attracting suspicion; I like Judith, whom we met earlier in the series, and it was good to see her being entrusted with some investigations of her own.
Reading this novel in the middle of a pandemic made the discussions on the end of humanity and the destruction of the world feel particularly bleak, but the twists and turns which accompany the search for the missing Juniper brother were entertaining and, thankfully, the book was not as depressing as I thought it might be at first! Some parts of the plot were very predictable (I guessed one of the twists very early in the book), but others were very far-fetched and unlikely and, as is often the case with Innes, you have to be prepared to suspend your disbelief. I didn’t like it as much as some of his others, but for a short, quick read I found it quite enjoyable.
Thanks to Agora Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.