RogerBW's Blog

Mystery Mile, Margery Allingham 18 June 2016

1930 classic English detective fiction; second of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. Multiple attempts have been made to murder an American judge; Campion does his best to keep him safe.

Where The Crime at Black Dudley was sometimes stylised, this book deliberately breaks the rules. There is no murder to set things going; and it's not so much a question of whodunnit (or who's trying to dunnit) as of who, from the principal characters, is going to turn out to be working for the criminals who want the judge dead. And similarly, therefore, it's not really all that much of a mystery.

The book continues Black Dudley's gentle mockery of Lord Peter Wimsey: Campion talks nonsense at the slightest opportunity, is repeatedly described as "fatuous", and blatantly doesn't deserve to get the girl even if he is good in a pinch. (Apart from anything else, he constantly underestimates his enemies and gets his allies into trouble thereby.)

"He told Guffy Randall that a beautiful creature was going to throw him over and he was going to be pretty seriously hurt by it. Guffy was quite rattled. He didn't ride to hounds for a fortnight, and it wasn't until Rosemary Waterhouse broke off their engagement that he realized what the chap meant. He was awfully relieved."

Allingham plays an interesting trick with the characters, though: while looked at soberly they're clearly sketched-in in the extreme, they still manage to give the impression of depth while one's reading. The setting is clearly drawn from the life (based in fact on Mersea Island), but while quicksand (or rather quickmud) is significant several times there's never any use made of the fact that the causeway is flooded twice a day – which one would have thought would make the ideal excuse for a "one of these few people must have dunnit" plot. The rural country life sections don't quite gel with the big-city gangsters, but again little is done with this.

In spite of all these problems, though, the book continues to be fun, even when there's mortal peril in the offing. Yeah, casual racism, but also Magersfontein Lugg, the unrepentant (but mostly reformed) burglar who's Campion's servant.

"What about those wedding presents? Silver, I suppose."

Lugg was dubious.

"Don't 'ave it inscribed, whatever you do," he remarked feelingly. "Can't pop it, can't sell it, no one even wants to pinch it. It does silver right in, inscribin' does. There's a sight too much of it these days. I'll think of something."

Followed by Look to the Lady.

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