RogerBW's Blog

Flowers for the Judge, Margery Allingham 08 September 2016

1936 classic English detective fiction; seventh of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Barnabas family publishing house is used to strangeness; the founder's nephew disappeared in broad daylight while walking between his house and the main road. Now Paul Brande, one of the cousins who run the firm, is found dead inside a locked room. US vt Legacy in Blood.

There's an obvious suspect: Mike Wedgwood, youngest of the cousins, who's known to have been spending time with Paul's neglected wife Gina. What's worse, Mike went down to the strong-room where Paul's body was found, the night beforeā€¦ and said he saw nothing unusual. But the body was lying right in the doorway and Paul had been killed several days earlier; how could Mike have missed it?

This is probably the most conventionally structured of the Allingham mysteries I've read, and even then the murderer is explicitly revealed in chapter 17 of 21 (and the alert reader will have spotted what's up much earlier, though there's a certain lack of proof or motive at first). At the other end of the proceedings, after some immediate detective work about cause of death, there are long sections dealing with the inquest and the initial stages of the trial (in particular lovingly-observed scenes in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey), and only at the last moment does Campion get into gear to sort things out. Where in Look to the Lady and Sweet Danger he vanished off-stage near the climax and came back with all the answers, this time we're allowed to follow him as he spends a long night collecting all the information that's needed.

Characterisation is understated but more effective than flamboyancy would have been. The minor character of Teddie Dell, in particular, is superbly drawn, as is the faintly-idiotic (or is he?) nephew Richie Barnabas. Lugg returns at last, but mostly to be made mock of for trying to get away from his larcenous past; later in the book, when he has to use old contacts, things work rather better. Campion himself is less fatuous than he's sometimes been.

The ultimate solution fails to satisfy only insofar as it is outside the law, and this is for my money the best of the Allinghams so far. Followed by Dancers in Mourning.

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