RogerBW's Blog

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham 05 August 2017

1958 classic English detective fiction; sixteenth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. Several crimes seem to be vaguely related to a shabby-respectable area in west London, but how can it all be put together? US vtt Tether's End and Ten Were Missing.

This is not a mystery. We meet the villain quite early, and he's clearly exposed to us as such (because we've already read what the police know about the crimes); the uncertainty and doubt come from wondering how he will be caught and what damage he will do on the way. In some ways it's a revisiting of The Tiger in the Smoke, with a similar theme of a purely parasitic and self-interested, but glamorous, criminal who inevitably disintegrates and subconsciously connives at his own downfall.

But this book doesn't have Canon Avril as a foil; instead it has the elderly widow Polly Tassie, and the study of her character is perhaps the most important thing here. Everyone who knows the villain likes him, but she in particular cannot help but support him even though she knows he's involved in minor criminality and gradually comes to suspect him of more. That makes her sound stupid, and in some ways she is, but she still comes over as a real and sympathetic person; if like me you find yourself inclined to contempt for people who are used by criminals but still defend them, this book may soften you a bit.

"Aunt Polly," she said seriously, "do you know this has been probably the most wonderful evening of my whole life."

Polly, who had been staring down the curving street picked out in lights, heard the words as if they were far off and utterly meaningless. Her bleak eyes took in the glow on the young face and closed before its unbearable fatuousness.

Meanwhile we return to Charlie Luke, and while Campion's about this is rather more Luke's book (especially compared with The Beckoning Lady as there's no sign of Amanda or Lugg here at all); we're in London, with blatant crime going on, and that's a place for police work with amateur advice rather than for an amateur working alone. Luke has a bee in his bonnet, and his boss is worried about him and asks Campion to look in.

"It's the new rank, I know that." Luke spoke bluntly. "A Chief can have ideas and a mere D.D.I. is permitted to have a hunch. But a Super is paid to keep his feet on the carpet, his seat on his chair and his head should be a box marked 'Members Only.'

We spend a fair amount of time, both with the villain and with the police, rattling around various tatty clubs and restaurants. This is still a Britain that's recovering from the war, and while good things may be available again they're too expensive to think of using.

It occupied the whole of the first floor of the small period house and was composed of a single L-shaped room divided by a large archway in which had once hung the panelled double doors of a more gracious age. Now most of the ornamentation had been achieved with paper, a design of white candelabra on grey on the darker walls and an explosion of gilt stars upon crimson on the lighter ones.

(and in a different place)

A group of seedy-looking youths who might have been planning anything from a burglary to a skiffle group sat round the largest table in the far corner, talking together, and did not look up as he came in.

There's not really all that much action, though there is plenty of suspense; apart from the first chapter, the action of the book takes up less than a day, which seems odd as the culmination of events that have been going on for years. Perhaps it's simply that the first crack is rapidly followed by others.

It's an odd little piece, like The Tiger in the Smoke boiled down to its essentials. That's probably a better book, but this is highly recommended. Followed by The China Governess.

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