Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Campion risks his life to try to bring an audacious killer to justice

The Vintage edition of  Death of a Ghost
The Vintage edition of 
Death of a Ghost
Death of a Ghost,
Margery Allingham’s sixth novel to feature the gentleman adventurer Albert Campion, was first published in the UK in 1934.

In a note about Campion at the beginning of the book, the author observes that her hero is an adventurer, whose exploits are sometimes picaresque, as in Mystery Mile and Sweet Danger, but he sometimes faces grave difficulties, as in Police at the Funeral. She warns that Death of a Ghost falls into the second category.

When the story starts, preparations are being made for a party at the London home of John Lafcadio, an artist who has been dead for 18 years. It is the eve of the annual ceremony for the unveiling of one of the series of 12 paintings he has left behind in a bid to keep his memory alive.

Campion, who is a friend of the painter’s widow, Belle, visits her the day before the ceremony and attends the unveiling occasion the following evening. When the ceremony is interrupted by a daring and particularly brutal murder, Campion calls in his good friend, Inspector Stanislaus Oates to investigate.

Suspicion falls on a member of the family, but the police can’t find enough proof to make an arrest. But when another murder is committed at the property, Campion decides to investigate for himself to help his old friend, Belle.

I found the novel slow at first, while lots of characters were being introduced and described. The action didn’t really get under way until page 50.

Throughout the novel, Campion seems passive, not behaving at all like the action man that he was in Sweet Danger.

In another departure from her previous stories, Margery reveals that Campion has guessed the identity of the killer and names the person about 100 pages from the end of the book. He says he has no means of proving it and fears for Belle’s safety, lamenting to Inspector Oates that he is being outwitted by the killer.

Campion seems strangely trusting to accept an invitation for a drink at the suspect’s apartment and then to go out to dinner with a person he feels sure has committed two murders.

Peter Davison played Albert Campion in a  BBC TV adaptation of Death of a Ghost
Peter Davison played Albert Campion in a 
BBC TV adaptation of Death of a Ghost
He allows himself to fall into a trap set for him by the suspect and then the action heats up with Campion’s life in danger.

The writer Margery Allingham was born in 1904 in London and began writing at the age of eight when she had a story published in a magazine.

Her first novel was published when she was 19, but she did not make her breakthrough as a crime writer until her novel, The Crime at Black Dudley, was published in 1929. This introduced her series detective, Albert Campion, even though he appeared only as a minor character in her first book.

He was at first thought to be a parody of Dorothy L Sayers’s hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, but Campion matured as the series of books progressed and proved there was a lot more to him, becoming increasingly popular with readers.

Margery Allingham is regarded as one of the four great Queens of Crime from the Golden Age of detective fiction. One of her fellow Queens of Crime, Agatha Christie, once said of the author: “Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light.”

Reviewers have identified Death of A Ghost as a proper detective story rather than a high-spirited thriller, but it differs from other detective stories of the time by having the sleuth identify the killer and share his knowledge with the reader considerably before the end of the book. The reader must wait for proof that Campion is right and to find out whether the police will have enough evidence to arrest the suspect and bring him to justice. But like all good mystery writers, Margery keeps a few surprises up her sleeve until the end of the story.

Death of a Ghost was filmed for the BBC in 1960, when Campion was played by Bernard Horstall, and then again in 1989, when the role was played by Peter Davison.

Vintage Books, part of the Penguin Random House Group, have now republished all Margery’s novels featuring her series detective Albert Campion.

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