Thursday, June 29, 2017

“Hide My Eyes” by Margery Allingham

It begins in an alleyway in London’s West End theater district. It’s raining heavily, the theaters’ performances are at the halfway point, and no one seems to notice the old bus, the kind with curtains at the windows, pull into an alleyway. The few who see the bus notice only the elderly couple sitting at the very front.

But then there’s a murder in a nearby building. And the bus seems to vanish. Or perhaps no one notices it leaving because of the rain. The crime remains unsolved.

Eight months later, Chief Superintendent Charles Luke of Scotland Yard is visiting with a friend, Albert Campion, who often helps the police in their investigations. A policeman on the beat has made a possible connection between the unsolved murder and a small, rather eccentric museum in his patrol area. He had seen a young woman, Annabelle Tassie, in a nearby park, was struck by her loveliness, and rather pleasantly surprised when she asked for directions to the museum. The young woman had been waiting for a friend, Richard Waterfield. She’s looking for the museum because of a letter sent to her family by the owner, the wife of Annabelle’s great-uncle.

Through these rather disparate strands – a bus, a murder, a museum, a young couple – Golden Age mystery writer Margery Allingham (1904-1966) fashions one of the most chilling Albert Campion mysteries she had written. In Hide My Eyes, first published in 1958, Allingham creates a villain utterly without moral scruple, one who lies as a matter of ordinary behavior, kills when it’s of benefit, and uses people ruthlessly as long as they are of some use.

Margery Allingham
The novel is less a mystery and more of a psychological thriller. The reader knows who the villain is; the question becomes how, and if, he will be caught, and what havoc he’ll wreak in the meantime.

What adds immeasurably to this mystery novel is Allingham’s ability to evoke fear and uneasiness through scene description. What she does with the rain in the opening scene is amplified at a London junkyard at night. And the museum of eccentricities is downright creepy. All had greatly to the gripping psychology of the story.

Hide My Eyes is an Albert Campion mystery, but Allingham’s famous detective plays a relatively small if important role in the story. We see most of the story through the eyes of the young couple, Annabelle and Richard (and it wouldn’t be an Allingham story without a love interest). It’s a fascinating story that is difficult to put down.


Top photograph: an old English bus, similar to the one that plays a role in the story. Note the window curtains, which in the story were all drawn.

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