Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham

First published 1949; cover shown is the 2007 Vintage Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover art by Keith Marten. 234p.

This was my first meeting with Margery Allingham's series detective, Albert Campion. Campion is an unlikely protagonist when compared to his Golden Age contemporaries. Not as suave as Alleyn, not as eccentric as Poirot, not as predictable as Miss Silver. He seemed to make at least one foolish remark in each chapter (Allingham's inference, not mine) and I was a bit taken aback at his somewhat meek attitude.

The story itself was almost flawless, with a cast of interesting characters and a number of unusual crimes. Campion, while deliberating on whether to accept an overseas post as governor (which would mean letting go of Lugg, his faithful manservant), agrees to take a room in an old friend's large London residence. The surviving members of the Palinode family have rooms in the house, and Campion is sent in to investigate the recent poisoning death of one of the elderly sisters.

Campion meets with the various eccentric Palinodes (my favourite being Miss Jessica, who has a meagre allowance and survives by boiling weeds she finds in the local park), and in turn the local shopkeepers and the local Divisional Detective Inspector, Charlie. Charlie proves to be of invaluable help as together they delve deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Palinodes and Apron Street - the biggest of which appears to be a very fishy undertaker whose coffins keep disappearing. But it will be Campion, of course, who uncovers the biggest secret of them all.


Gladdog said...

Hello Kay, very happy that you tried Allingham and generally I have to agree with most of what you said. Having now read 3 of her books, all different, Campion doesn't seem to contribute anywhere near as much as I would like but Allingham does have a beautiful way with words.
I was wondering if you could tell me much about Elizabeth Daly. All I know is that she was one of Christys favourites.
Why is it that the "fairer sex" shine more brightly in this most macabre genre? I've been trying to find my own reasons for this but everything that I consider seems inadequate.
The rain soon followed the snow and so poor Chelsey had school the next day, que teenage strop. I bet Bean doesn't make you suffer these.
Many thanks once again. In appreciation Phil.

The Face at the Window said...

Hi Phil!
I have another Campion novel in my To Read pile ('Dancers in Mourning'), and hopefully I'll get to it soon. I agree she has a beautiful way with words; I loved the characters she created and the way she described them.
I also read that Elizabeth Daly was one of Christie's favourite authors. My first Daly novel, 'Evidence of Things Seen', is waiting in my To Read pile. She actually didn't start writing mystery fiction until she was 60 years old, but still managed to churn out 16 novels. If you do read one, let me know what you think.
I'm not sure what it is about females and mystery writing (especially pre-1960s)... but I do notice that in America it was the opposite once the Hard Boiled genre made its mark. Have you tried Colin Watson? If you like Pamela Branch, you'll like Watson. Some of Edmund Crispin's work is also good, and I've just recently discovered Jim Thompson. I'm constantly realising that most of my favourite authors are female, and am always trying new male authors in order to (hopefully) change that.
No, Bean is reasonably trouble-free, although yesterday he did pull a (brand new!) towel off the clothesline and drag it through a patch of prickles... Sadly I didn't catch him in the act, so there wasn't much I could do.
Thanks for your comments - ít's always good to hear from you and discuss the 'macabre genre'!