Private detective Albert Campion celebrated Christmas. Who knew?
Margery Allingham’s (1904-1966) fictional detective was famous during the Golden Age of Mystery, roughly the 1920s to the 1940s. He starred in 18 of her mystery novels and numerous short stories. Four of those stories have been collected and recently published as Campion at Christmas.
“On Christmas Day in the Morning” poses a “locked room” kind of mystery, but without the locked room. A postman is found by the side of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run driver. A suspect is in custody, having crashed his car sometime later. But the old lady in a cottage some distance off the road received her daily mail – at the time the postman would have been killed.
“Happy Christmas” finds a young couple named the Robinsons facing a guest-less Christmas. They’re rather well known for collecting Victoriana artifacts, and a living Victoriana artifact is in the flat at the top of their building – an aging lady whose heyday was the Victorian period. She’s becomes part of their neo-Victorian holiday celebration, but is everything really as it looks?
“The Case of the Man with the Sack” involves Campion being invited to a country house celebration for Christmas. And it promises to be a rather tense, depressing affairs. Some valuable jewels are stolen, and it looks like Santa Claus is the thief.
And “Word in Season” has Poins, the red setter belonging to Campion and his wife Amanda, pondering whether or not he should speak. Very few people know that dogs have the gift of human speech during the hour before midnight on Christmas Eve. Poins knows of both good and bad things that have happened to his canine friends when they exercised this ability. And a sharp disagreement (one can’t imagine Campion having a fight) between the Campions looks like it will force the dog’s hand, er, paw.
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.
Campion at Christmas is an easy, fast read (it can be read start to finish in less than an hour). It’s also rather a charming collection of stories, and a treat for those of us Campion fans who still enjoy the detective whom everyone usually overlooks.
Top photograph by Craig Whitehead via Unsplash. Used with permission.
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