RogerBW's Blog

Police at the Funeral, Margery Allingham 09 July 2016

1931 classic English detective fiction; fourth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The very elderly Caroline Faraday has a house in Cambridge run on strict Victorian lines; her ageing son, daughters and nephew put up with the lack of freedom for the free bed and board, having variously failed at their own lives. But everyone's fairly horrible, and it seems that one of them is also a murderer.

Early in the book, Campion muses:

As far as he could see, really attractive characters in this affair were going to be scarce, and it was delightful to find one at the breakfast-table so unexpectedly on the first morning of his arrival.

and sure enough that's what you're going to get here. Like some of Agatha Christie's later mysteries, anyone could have dunnit, and nobody is particularly pleasant, so you won't mind if it turns out to be them. Campion spends much of his time in the house with the ghastly people, thus having nobody to play off, and there's no Lugg at all. The Cambridge setting is largely wasted apart from a desire to get things sorted out before the students come back,

On the other hand, where Allingham's previous mysteries have been fairly thin and conventional, if anything mostly there to supply necessary form for the character studies that seem to have been her early priority, this one gives you a full-blown and distinctly challenging detective story (i.e. I didn't work out the guilty party's identity before the revelation) as well as the character studies. It probably helps that organised crime is no longer a plot element, since "who's working for the known bad guys" is replaced by the more interesting "who is a bad guy in his/her own right, and for what reasons".

Everything feels a bit stagey, to the extent that even Inspector Oates remarks upon the "conjuring trick" that seems to have been pulled (i.e. that the circumstantial evidence, like the woman apparently cut in two on stage, seems to have been carefully set up and is going to end up indicating something entirely different from what it appears to). There's even an actual honest locked-room mystery! The sudden appearance of a massive bare footprint in a flower-bed, far too big to belong to any of the inmates of the house, feels like an explicit attempt at misdirection.

"She clung to life as though she had ever got anything out of it, poor creature."

It's all a bit grim and baroque, so don't go into this expecting a conventional Golden Age mystery; but if you're willing to immerse yourself in pettiness and hatred, this is the book for you. Followed by Sweet Danger.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: Look to the Lady | Series: Albert Campion | Next in series: Sweet Danger

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1