Monday, February 15, 2016

The Essential Margery Allingham Collection

In the 1970s, there was a minor revival of interest in the mysteries that collectively came to be known as the “Golden Age” – mystery novels published roughly between the two world wars (with some spillover before World War I and After World War II. The writers were British, Americans who wrote British-like stories, and Americans who wrote like Americans. The names: Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, S.S. Van Dine, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and many more.

And there was a British writer, born in 1904, who began writing stories and plays at a very young age and struggled until she published a story in1929 about an aristocratic detective who never revealed his real name and title, gave the appearance of being “not all there” and was just rather odd. His name was Albert Campion; his story was entitled The Crime at Black Dudley, and his creator was named Margery Allingham.

Her writing career took off. Campion seemed to have struck a chord with the British (and later American) reading public.

Allingham kept writing about her detective and other subjects until her death in 1966. A few Campion stories that were in process at the time of her death were published with the help of another writer, Philip Youngman Carter. During the minor Golden Age revival in the 1970s, I came across The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Police at the Funeral, Death of a Ghost, and Sweet Danger. I became something of an Allingham fan. Her writing, much like that of Dorothy Sayers, appealed to the mind and much as it did to a sense of mystery.

Now the Margery Allingham Estate is republishing her works, and the first volume is actually three – The Essential Margery Allingham Collection. The three novels in one collection are Sweet Danger, Traitor’s Purse and The Tiger in the Smoke. On Kindle, the price is $6.99 – and that’s impossible to beat for an introduction to a great mystery writer.

All three are Albert Campion mysteries, spread across a period of about 20 years. They not only show the range of Allingham’s writing but how she developed as a writer.

In Sweet Danger (1933), the story begins rather improbably, with Campion posing in the French Riviera as the king of a previously-unheard-of country called Averna in the Balkans. A return to England is in order – Campion is on the trail of three artifacts that will establish an impoverished family as the rightful heirs of the kingdom and an estate in England. A big financier is also on the trail, employing a few thugs to help him out. At stake is the balance of power in Europe. In this story, Allingham introduces Amanda Fitton, a young girl who fixes cars, repairs windmills, develops applications for electricity, and is destined to become Campion’s wife.

In Traitor’s Purse (1941), England is at war, and Campion from the beginning of the story finds himself suffering from amnesia after an attack. He awakens in an hospital and doesn’t know who he is or recognize anyone around him. He overhears a conversation that seems to threaten him, and he makes good his escape, with the help of a girl he doesn’t recognize driving by in a car. The girl is Amanda, and she becomes they key to helping him return to his rightful mental self. All he knows is that something awful is afoot, with the capacity to destroy the country, and he has to find his way out of amnesia before it’s too late.

Margery Allingham in the 1930s
In The Tiger in the Smoke (1952), a thick fog enveloping London is not helping Campion or the police to find out why a young woman’s dead husband – killed during World War II – is suddenly being photographed in London. The young woman is part of Campion’s extended family, which by this time includes his wife Amanda and their young son Rupert. The story involves elements of London’s underworld, whose speech is captured so well by Allingham that it rivals Charles Dickens at his best. Allingham combines romance, religion, post-World War II social issues in a finely crafted story that goes beyond the mystery genre. It’s a good mystery but a wonderful novel.

The three novels in one collection is a wonderful introduction to one o Britain’s best mystery writers from the Golden Age. That they still compel interest today testifies to her appeal beyond the time in which she lived and wrote.

In 1989-1990, an Albert Campion television series based on several of Allingham’s novels was aired in Britain. It starred Peter Davison as Albert Campion and and Brian Glover as his personal servant, chauffeur, bodyguard and occasional criminal, Magersfontein Lugg (Lugg is one of the great creations of 20th century mystery writing). This is the trailer for each episode’s introduction (we recently watched it on Netflix).

Top photograph: the "Killer Fog" in London in 1952, an actual occurrence in which hundreds of people died.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I LOVE mysteries.

These sound good.

Very nice blog.

Stopping by from Saturday Review of Books Linkup.

Silver’s Reviews
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz