Thursday, March 4, 2021

Mystery Mile

Sinister goings on in a remote country house on the Suffolk coast

The gentleman sleuth Albert Campion takes centre stage in Mystery Mile, the second novel by Margery Allingham to feature him as a character, which was first published in 1930.

Campion appeared in The Crime at Black Dudley, published in 1929, as a minor character, although he played his part, along with the other young guests at the country house party, when the host’s uncle is found dead and a sinister gang of criminals take over the building and hold them hostage.

The edition reissued by Vintage in 2015
But he is involved in the action right from the beginning in Mystery Mile by saving the life of an American judge on board a luxury liner crossing the Atlantic, seemingly by accident.

The judge, Crowdy Lobbett, is being targeted by a major criminal, known as Simister, and his ruthless associates. Several people in the judge’s circle have already died before he boards the ship with his son and daughter to flee to England where he hopes to be safer.

But after a car drives into the hotel where Judge Lobbett is staying in London, his son, Marlowe, tracks down Campion to ask for his help.

Campion offers the family sanctuary at a remote country house owned by two of his friends, a brother and sister, Giles and Biddy Paget.

The house is in Mystery Mile, a small village on the Suffolk coast, which is joined to the mainland only by a long narrow road, making it almost an island and difficult for non residents to access.

But on their first night in the house the local rector kills himself in a gruesome manner, leaving a note and some mysterious clues for Campion and his friends.

Then the judge vanishes while exploring the maze in the garden and his clothes are later found in the sea. And Biddy disappears after leaving the house to walk the few yards to the village post office.

After being tipped off by a criminal friend of Campion’s that she is being held in a house in London, the young men in the party launch a daring rescue bid.

There is plenty of fighting and some nasty injuries, but they manage to rescue Biddy. It then becomes a race against time to keep Simister and his gang of men at bay until they can pinpoint the identity of the criminal mastermind himself and deal with him once and for all.

Peter Davison (right) played Campion in the BBC TV series, with Brian Glover (left) as Lugg
Peter Davison (right) played Campion in the
BBC TV series, with Brian Glover (left) as Lugg
Very much a book of its time, Mystery Mile reminded me a little of Agatha Christie’s second novel, The Secret Adversary, which was published in 1922.

Margery, like Agatha, was dubbed a Queen of Crime during the Golden Age of detective fiction. Her first two novels both fall more into the suspense category than that of the cosy English crime novel. But she never loses sight of the basic rules of the classic detective story and keeps the reader guessing right to the end.

Margery’s setting for the old manor house, Mystery Mile, a village that is practically an island, was based on Mersea Island in Essex where she had spent time in her youth.

The story was adapted for television by the BBC in the 1990s, as the final episode of the second series of Campion, which starred Peter Davison as Albert Campion, Brian Glover as his manservant Magersfontein Lugg and Andrew Burt as his policeman friend Stanislaus Oates.

The novel was reissued in 2015 by Vintage, which is part of the Penguin Random House Group.

Although it is nearly 100 years since Mystery Mile was written I think it is a gripping story and well worth reading.

Mystery Mile is available in a variety of formats from or


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