RogerBW's Blog

Sweet Danger, Margery Allingham 17 July 2016

1933 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Fitton family operate a run-down watermill in Suffolk, but may be the forgotten heirs of Averna, a tiny European principality that may suddenly be terribly important. US vtt Kingdom of Earth and The Fear Sign.

That doesn't sound like much of a setup for a mystery, and it isn't. Allingham continues to scatter her books widely around the core concept of a whodunnit; here, as in Look to the Lady of which this is very reminiscent, the game is much more "what's going on". There's a puzzle to be solved, working out how young Hal Fitton can be shown to be the true heir of Pontisbright based on clues found in an ancient riddle before the bad guys do whatever they're going to do, and there's the oddity of a corpse left out in a clearing which later vanishes, but any element of criminal mystery is peripheral and minimal. The bit with the bell is excellent; and the bit with the doctor; and the evil financier. They just all seem as though they should fit in three different books.

The book was written at the request of Allingham's American publisher Doubleday, which hadn't been happy with sales of Police at the Funeral and wanted another "plum pudding". She put aside Death of a Ghost and jumped into this in a spirit of "what fun", particularly as she'd just managed to move to Tolleshunt d'Arcy in Essex and didn't have to live in London any more.

The Averna business is mostly an excuse to get Campion involved, working as before for the Crown, and to provide an amusing introductory sequence on the French Riviera. Gritty crime isn't Allingham's strong suit any more than Ruritanian romance is, and with another mid-book disappearance from Campion so that he can solve everything off-stage the other events sometimes feel as though they're stretched a little thin even in this fairly short book.

The real point of this story, I think, is Amanda Fitton: a Girl who doesn't need to be kept out of the action (though Campion still tries). She's the driving force of the Fittons' attempt to recover their fortunes: organising a mill-driven dynamo to recharge the villagers' wireless batteries (1933 seems a bit late for a village not to be on the mains, but this is a pretty remote place), and taking in paying guests. Once the criminality gets going she takes a practical approach to dealing with that too, and generally makes things happen in the book in a way that's normally reserved for Campion alone. Allingham brought her back in several later books, and I'm looking forward to her reapperances.

Followed by Death of a Ghost.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:49pm on 17 July 2016

    My understanding is that plenty of smallish places weren't on mains electricity until well after WWII. Plenty of military bases during the war had a dodgy sideline going in charging local people's wireless batteries.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:08pm on 17 July 2016

    Interesting, thanks – something to remember for the upcoming 1930s game…

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:24pm on 19 July 2016

    I could be wrong, may be worth doing some research. It's never mattered to me that much before.

    Also remember the National Grid while it existed in the 1930s (built with steam traction engines and draft horses!) was much less extensive than it is now. As soon as you get to local sections of supply at 240V there's often only one feed on poles, which easily blow down in bad weather. Look at what happens in Scotland where a lot of the supply is still like that.

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