RogerBW's Blog

Look to the Lady, Margery Allingham 25 June 2016

1931 classic English detective fiction; third of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Gyrth Chalice is unique and unsaleable… but it seems that someone is setting up to steal it anyway, for a private collection. US vt The Gyrth Chalice Mystery.

This book has a particularly memorable opening: Percival St. John Wykes Gyrth, heir to a baronetcy, starving and destitute in London, is given a shilling by a policeman so that he has "visible means of support" as he tries to find somewhere to sleep rough. He's quarrelled with his father and been cut off without a penny… though, alas, this barely figures into the main plot, and serves primarily to introduce "Val" to the reader, and then Val and the reader to Campion.

And Campion's progressed further in his process of development from his first appearance: he still looks fatuous, but unlike the Campion from Mystery Mile he's clearly saying his sillinesses to relieve stress at crucial moments, rather than to persuade people he's an idiot. Lugg returns too, and gets some splendid lines, including a comment on the decline of country pubs:

"Whilst you're messing about with 'the Motorist's Lunch'—seven and a kick and coffee extra— I'll go and get something to eat in the bar. It's mugs like you wot changes 'The Blue Boar' into 'Ye Olde Stuck Pigge for Dainty Teas'."

What's missing, though, is the whodunnit aspect; this is more adventure, loosely in the manner of Dornford Yates or John Buchan, than mystery. The villains of the piece are clearly marked as such at their first appearance. All that's really up for grabs is how they're going about their ultimate object, the theft of the Chalice, and how Campion will stop them (he does lots of that stopping off-stage in such a way that the reader is never let in on it, and it isn't even necessary to the finale). While there is a corpse, solving a murder is not the principal business of this story either. It's much more about the people, and to me tips the balance too far in this direction by leaving too little puzzle content.

That said, the people are excellent.

Followed by Police at the Funeral.

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