A chalice has been in the possession of the Gyrth family since Anglo-Saxon times, and its keeping and stewardship guarantees the family its estate and titles by the British crown. But a ring of wealthy art connoisseurs, who employ thieves and burglars across Europe, trains its eye on the Gyrth chalice. And Albert Campion, who calls himself many things but never a detective or sleuth, gets involved, to save the chalice and the family’s position.
That’s the heart of the story of Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham (1904-1966), first published in 1931 and published in the United States under the title The Gyrth Chalice Mystery. It’s been republished over the years, including just this month as part of a three-volume Allingham set, The Margery Allingham Box Set #1. (The other two books in the set are Police at the Funeral and Sweet Danger.)
Allingham wrote mysteries and other works for a period spanning some 40 years. She’s best known for her Albert Campion mysteries, Campion being a rather innocent, deceptively foolish-looking young man who is anything but innocent or foolish. He also has family connections into the aristocracy, but he is always quick to divert both attention and conversation away from what those are.
In these early Campion books, all we really know for sure is that his real first name is Rudolph. His assistant, butler, book, chauffeur, and some1stimes bodyguard is the reformed ex-convict Magersfontein Lugg. Campion’s home and office is above the police station at 17A Bottle Street in Piccadilly.
Lugg plays a significant role in Look to the Lady, including being nearly scared senseless by an apparition on the nearby heath near the Gyrth estate in Suffolk. The story is filled with apparitions, gypsies, thieves, a rather wild horse, and Scotland Yard detective Stanislaus Oates (Campion’s good friend and a staple of the Campion mysteries). There is also more than a hint of romance between two other characters, another regular feature of an Allingham story.
Look to the Lady is great fun and an Allingham classic. It’s good to see these stories revived for new generations to enjoy them.
Top photograph by Katrina Joyner via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.
Allingham is a splendid writer, one who combines excellent writing with skillful storytelling. Although the third book in the Mr Campion series, I personally always recommend this as the book to begin reading Allingham, as I think she hits her stride with this one.
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