RogerBW's Blog

The Case of the Late Pig, Margery Allingham 09 October 2016

1937 classic English detective fiction; ninth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. Campion is called to the village of Kepesake as the recent rich incomer has clearly been murdered… but when Campion sees the body, he realises he went to the same man's funeral five months earlier.

The main thing to remember in autobiography, I have always thought, is not to let any damned modesty creep in to spoil the story. This adventure is mine, Albert Campion's, and I am fairly certain that I was pretty nearly brilliant in it in spite of the fact that I so nearly got myself and old Lugg killed that I hear a harp quintet whenever I consider it.

Yes, Allingham's trick this time is to make Campion the narrator, the only time she did it; and it's a hard game to play. After all, Campion by definition spots everything that's there to be spotted, even if he doesn't always deduce everything. As it is there's a remarkable amount of foreshadowing, and Campion telling us what a fool he's being with perhaps rather too many lines like "Perhaps I ought to mention here that at that moment I was absolutely wrong" and "As it happened, of course, he was perfectly right, but none of us knew that then".

This is one of what I think of as a "type two" case: rather than the victim being someone everybody (apparently) liked so that nobody had a motive, here the victim is someone everyone hated, so everybody had a motive. But everybody also has an alibi, and while this is quite a short book there is plenty of old-fashioned deduction to be done. What's more, Allingham does a good job of conveying the atmosphere of the village, where nobody much minds the fellow being dead and nobody (except Campion) is really terribly enthused about catching the murderer. Until the body vanishes, that is… It shouldn't be too hard to work out who dunnit, but why is another matter entirely – though it does all fit together in the end.

The ephemeral cast includes another young woman of the minor aristocracy who's clearly destined to marry somebody other than our hero, though she comes off badly here, being unreasonably suspicious of Campion because a young woman of rather lower class has come to the village and is asking after him. It makes her look petty for her jealousy, especially as she and Campion aren't in any way involved. There's the retired actress Poppy Bellew (presumably no relation to Slippers Bellew of Dancers in Mourning), who's running the sort-of-hotel where the murder took place:

It is not easy to describe Poppy. She is over fifty, I suppose, with tight grey curls all over her head, a wide mouth, and enormous blue eyes. That is the easy part. The rest is more difficult. She exudes friendliness, generosity, and a sort of naïve obstinacy. Her clothes are outrageous, vast flowery skirts and bodices embellished with sufficient frills to rig a frigate. However, they suit her personality if not her figure. You see her and you like her and that's all there is to it.

There's Sir Leo Pursuivant the local Squoire, and the importunate vicar, and the doctor who sees the murder as regrettable, of course, but mostly a break from the tedium of a village practice, and who hangs around Campion for a share of the excitement.

When I listened to him at all, he had my sympathy. A life that needs a murder to make it interesting must, I thought, be very slow indeed.

This is primarily a novel of people, but one with a highly engaging technical plot as well. All right, we will eventually learn that Campion knew who the villain was (and took precautions against him) well before the revelation is made – without mentioning them in his narrative – which is perhaps a slight cheat, but mostly this is a very satisfying story. Followed by The Fashion in Shrouds.

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