Golden Age mystery writer Margery Allingham (1904-1966) didn’t just write Albert Campion detective stories. While she’s best known for the Campion novels, she also produced an array of other mystery stories with varying detectives, heroes, and heroines.
Deadly Duo, first published in 1949, includes two non-Campion novellas.
In “Wanted: Someone Innocent,” Gillian Brayton is a young woman not long out of school who works fort rather sub-standard wages for a milliner. At a retirement event for her old school’s headmistress, she meets Rita Fayre, an alum several years older than Gillian. Rita offers the young girl an attractive position on the spot, to become a kind of companion. Rita is vague about her duties, and unsuspecting Gillian, desperately in need of income, accepts.
The reader gets suspicious as soon as Gillian arrives at the Fayre country home, even if Gillian herself seems a bit naïve. She discovers she’s to be a companion for Rita’s convalescing husband Julian. But things more nefarious are underfoot.
In “Last Act,” Margot Robert is a young actress, French by birth but living in England. She’s returning from a rather triumphant theater tour in the United States, looking forward to seeing her family dominated by her adopted mother, Madame Zoffany, herself a former actress and known to the family as Zoff. Gillian had been engaged to one of Zoff’s grandsons, Victor; she has broken the engagement because she has fallen in love with the other grandson, Denis.
The family get-together has all the markings for fireworks and mayhem, and mayhem certainly ensues – Zoff is found dead in her bed, murdered. At times during the investigation, virtually all of the family members, servants, and various hangers-on are suspects; all except for Margot have a motive.
Allingham almost always manages to include a bit of romance in her novels, and these two novellas are no exception. But they’re not romantic stories or romances; Allingham was in the serious business of writing murder mysteries, and the romance is always a secondary consideration.
Deadly Duo is a fun read, exemplifying Allingham, at her non-Campion best.
Photograph: Audley End in Essex, UK, by Geoff Doggett via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. The English country house is like those in the two novellas that comprise Deadly Duo.