As William Farraday writes his memoirs, he realizes that much of his life has been something less than exciting. So, he embellishes a bit. Even more than a bit. When the book is published under the title “Memoirs of an Old Duffer,” it becomes a hit. And then it becomes a successful musical in London’s West End, starring one of the top performers in the business, Jimmy Sutane.
For one performance, Farraday brings his friend Albert Campion. The purpose is for Campion to meet Jimmy Sutane after the show. Someone has been playing pranks on Sutane, and the pranks are becoming increasingly vicious.
Campion visits the Sutane home, 20 miles outside London, and discovers tensions simmering just below the polite surface. He also finds Sutane’s wife, Linda, and Campion finds himself complicating what he’s supposed to be doing by falling in love. The other guests are all connected to the theater and “those theatrical people” are always overly dramatic.
And then a dancer is killed in what appears to be an accident. More deaths follow. Because of Linda, Campion tries to avoid getting entangled. But his entanglement is inevitable.
Dancers in Mourning was first published by Mystery Golden Age writer Margery Allingham (1904-1966) in 1937. The mark of an Allingham novel is a good mystery combined with a touch of romance, but it’s surprising that the romance in this story involves Campion and the wife of one of the suspects.
Allingham began publishing in 1923 when she was only 19. But it was The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929 that established her as one of the best mystery writers of the era. That story introduced Campion, a private detective who has assumed his name because he’s actually a title in one of Britain’s leading aristocratic families. His “man” or butler Magersfontein Lugg, a convicted felon who has seen the inside of prison, also contributed to Allingham’s success, and in this story Campion loans him to Linda when her butler quits.
Dancers in Mourning is an excellent mystery, one that jeeps the reader guessing (and Campion himself guessing) all the way to the end.
Top photograph: the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, which first opened in 1891.