Showing posts with label Margery Allingham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margery Allingham. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham

Mystery novel tells readers more about Albert Campion

The Vintage edition of  Flowers for the Judge
The Vintage edition of 
Flowers for the Judge
Campion is pushed to his limits when he tries to solve the puzzling disappearance of a director of a London publishing house, in Flowers for the Judge, the seventh novel by Margery Allingham to feature her adventurous series detective.

The mysterious Campion is called in to help when an old friend, Paul Brande, a nephew of the founder of the Barnabus publishing company, is reported as missing by his wife, Gina. Paul has been absent from home for three days, but as he and his wife led almost separate lives, no one has found it at all remarkable up till then.

Campion is introduced to the other members of the family involved in the publishing firm at a Sunday afternoon tea party at Gina’s flat. During the tea party, another cousin, Mike, goes to the office to fetch a file for the firm’s managing director from the strong room.

The next day, Paul Brande’s body is discovered lying in full view in the strong room by staff at the Barnabus publishing company. The police decide Mike must have seen the body when he went there on the Sunday afternoon but chose to say nothing about it. They also discover from other people that he was secretly in love with Gina, who is an attractive young American woman. They arrest him and accuse him of murdering Paul.

A large part of the book shows the police establishing a case against Mike and putting him on trial for murder, almost making it a legal mystery.

In this 1936 novel, Margery describes the nosegay traditionally carried into court by the judge. It is made up of fresh, scented flowers for the judge to sniff to mitigate the unpleasant smells and unhygienic air of the courtroom. It is the nosegay that gives the book its title.

Peter Davison as the bespectacled Campion in the BBC adaptation of Flowers for the Judge
Peter Davison as the bespectacled Campion
in the BBC adaptation of Flowers for the Judge 
Campion is made aware of the disappearance of a previous director of the firm, 20 years before, who seemed to vanish into thin air while walking along a street in London.

He is also told about the manuscript of a previously unpublished play written by Restoration dramatist William Congreve, which is owned by the firm. This was kept in the safe in the strong room and was about to be put on display at an event by Paul Brande.

As the trial gets under way, Campion, and his manservant, reformed criminal Magersfontein Lugg, have to work day and night to solve the murder before Mike is sentenced and hanged. At one point, Campion’s own life is threatened and he finds he must draw on all his resources and Lugg’s underworld contacts to help him solve the case.

Many readers have said they liked seeing the development of Albert Campion’s character by Margery Allingham during this story, who the reader has previously been told little about by the author. I found it to be a pacy whodunit that I enjoyed reading.

Flowers for the Judge was adapted for the BBC with Peter Davison as Campion and Brian Glover as Lugg and it was shown on television in two, hour-long episodes in 1990. 

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Friday, November 11, 2022

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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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham

Campion meets a flame-haired beauty who is a most unconventional heroine

A Vintage Books edition of Sweet Danger
A Vintage Books edition
of Sweet Danger
There is the first sign of a love interest for the mysterious Albert Campion in Sweet Danger, the fifth novel written by Margery Allingham about her hero’s adventures.

Campion meets the plucky Amanda Fitton, a beautiful teenage girl, who works with him to thwart a deadly enemy intent on defrauding her family of its inheritance. The novel is full of action, danger and eccentric characters and ends with the most delicate of hints that there might be romance in the future for the noble adventurer, Campion.

Sweet Danger was first published in 1933 in the UK. However, it is not a typical novel of its time. Amanda Fitton is not a damsel in distress for Campion to rescue. She is a hard-up and not very well dressed 17-year-old, who is interested in experimenting with radio signals and electricity.

Campion has been tasked by the British Government with finding proof of ownership of Averna, a small, oil rich principality on the Adriatic, which has become a vital port after an earthquake has given it a natural harbour. He goes to the village of Pontisbright in the depths of the Sussex countryside, where he meets Amanda and her family who, as rightful heirs to the principality, insist on joining Campion’s quest.

Although Campion and his friends agree to join forces with the Fitton family, whose ancestors were given the principality way back in history, an unscrupulous financier and his hired thugs are also on the trail. The family suffer violent attacks and Campion’s friends are tied up in sacks and shot at, while Campion himself goes missing.

During a showdown with the main villain, Amanda saves Campion’s life, but she has been shot herself in the process. Thankfully, her wound is not life threatening and in the last pages of the book she asks him to take her into partnership in his business ‘later on’…

Allingham's writing was notable for her insight into character
Allingham's writing was notable
for her insight into character
In 2022, Sweet Danger might seem like a far-fetched story to modern crime fiction fans, but I think it is well written and a gripping page-turner and still worth reading.

Margery Allingham, who died on this day in 1966, was a prolific writer during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. She left a legacy of 18 Albert Campion mysteries, six volumes of short stories about the detective and many stand-alone novels, novellas and volumes of short stories.

Margery died of cancer in hospital in Colchester six weeks after her 62nd birthday. She was in the process of writing her last novel, Cargo of Eagles, and had mapped out the story long before her death. Her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, was able to finish it, as she herself would have done, following her plan.

In a preface to Mr Campion’s Clowns, an omnibus of novels by Margery Allingham, published in 1967, Youngman Carter paid tribute to his late wife as ‘a generous, kind and courageous woman with a rare gift for friendship’.

Margery showed wonderful insight into character and her books abound in witty and accurate observations of people. As she matured as a writer, her books became deeper and started to encompass significant themes, such as love and justice, good and evil, and illusion and truth. Her works have now attained classic status and she has, at times been compared with Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson

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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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Police at the Funeral

Campion uses his detection skills and solves the mystery before the cops

The cover of the newest available edition of Police at the Funeral
The cover of the newest
available edition
Mr Albert Campion is asked by Joyce, the fiancée of one of his friends, to trace a distant relative she calls Uncle Andrew, who has gone missing from the house in Cambridge where they both live.

But before Campion and Joyce have even left London for Cambridge, they find out that the body of Uncle Andrew has been found in a river. He had been bound hand and foot with cord and shot in the head.

In this fourth novel to feature the mysterious Mr Campion, the author, Margery Allingham, allows hints to be dropped by one of the characters that Campion is from a prominent British aristocratic family, giving the reader a tantalising clue about who he really is.

Campion takes Joyce back to Socrates Close, the large old house where she lives with her Great Aunt, Caroline Faraday, the widow of a famous Cambridge academic, and the other members of the strange and dysfunctional family, who she helps Mrs Faraday to take care of.

Then Campion goes to see his old friend Marcus Featherstone, who is a solicitor and Joyce’s fiancĂ©, to get some background about the case. When Marcus asks for his professional assistance, Campion says: ‘I must warn you. I’m no detective, but of course I’m open to help. What d’you think I can do for you exactly?’ This is interesting because although we see him go on to use his skills to solve the murder, he clearly does not see himself as a detective.

From the previous novels, we know that Campion is well-educated, with quiet authority and that he is not afraid to put himself in danger to help others. He lives above a police station in London with an eccentric manservant and is reputed to be a good man to call upon in a crisis. He appears to be more of a gentleman adventurer than a private detective.

Nevertheless, he goes to Socrates Close to meet the formidable Caroline Faraday, who, because she thinks she knows his family, invites him to stay.

He uses his skill and experience to work out what is going on at Socrates Close when a second member of the family dies and another one is injured while they are both still inside the house.

Peter Davison played Campion in a BBC TV adaptation of Margery Allingham's novels
Peter Davison played Campion in a BBC TV
adaptation of Margery Allingham's novels
Campion follows up the clues he finds, such as the mysterious symbol drawn on the outside of one of the library windows and a huge footprint found in the flower bed below.

Although he works alongside his policeman friend, Stanislaus Oates, a senior Scotland Yard detective, it is Campion who works out what has been happening in the house and exposes the person responsible.

Police at the Funeral, the fourth Campion novel, was published in Britain in 1931 and is the first of the series not to have organised crime as a plot element. Instead, it is about a wealthy family living together in a big house who are constantly having petty squabbles. It is the first real detective story by Margery and is considered by many of her readers to be one of her best novels. 

She was later judged to be one of the four Queens of Crime, along with her contemporaries, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, who were also writing during the Golden Age of detective fiction.

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Friday, December 24, 2021

Enduring appeal of the festive mystery

Why Christmas is a good time for a crime story

This collection brings together some top crime writers
This collection brings together
some top crime writers
The dark days leading up to the festive season, when people face the prospect of meeting up with distant relatives and staying in cold and uncomfortable houses, has inspired many a good Christmas crime story.

There is always the prospect of the house being cut off because of severe weather and of ancient grudges resurfacing as the wine flows.

Most of the Golden Age detective novelists have had a crack at a Christmas crime story either in the form of a full-length novel or a short story.

Many of these have recently been reprinted  and given new front covers and are now entertaining a brand-new audience.

Some have been made into films that provide perfect entertainment for people replete with Christmas dinner as they snuggle down in front of the fire and watch other  people’s Christmas parties ending with a murder.

The four Queens of Crime all turned out their fair share of Christmas murder mysteries, many of them going on to become popular films.

Their short Christmas stories were originally written for magazines, but we are now able to enjoy them again as they come out in anthologies.

I can recommend a short story by Margery Allingham, The Case Is Altered, which has been included in Murder Under the Christmas Tree – Ten Classic Crime Stories for the Festive Season.

Margery Allingham's short story is well worth reading
Margery Allingham's short story
is well worth reading
Mr Albert Campion is going to spend Christmas at Sir Phillip Cookham’s country home in Norfolk. Cookham is a kindly, mild-mannered Cabinet minister, but his wife Florence, a distant relative of Campion’s, loves to host big Christmas parties, with all the festive trimmings, several Christmas trees and an odd assortment of guests.

Campion finds himself sharing a railway carriage with some of his fellow guests and even before the train reaches its destination, a station near a country house called Underhill, he is aware of tensions between some of the people who have been invited.

A note pushed under the door of the neighbouring guest room adds to his feeling of unease and even though the recipient thinks he is being invited to a romantic tryst, Campion has the feeling something more sinister is going on.

In less than 25 pages, Margery provides us with an intriguing mystery, that is full of Christmas atmosphere and shows her detective, Campion, at his best as he solves the case in his usual self -effacing way.

Murder Under the Christmas Tree, published by Profile Books, also has stories by Dorothy L Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edmund Crispin and G K Chesterton.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Look to the Lady

Third Campion mystery features an ancient relic, witches, gypsies and a ruthless gang


Look to the Lady involves Campion searching for a 'monster' hiding in Suffolk woodland
Look to the Lady involves Campion searching
for a 'monster' hiding in Suffolk woodland
Margery Allingham was well into her stride writing about her mysterious, amateur sleuth, Albert Campion, when she published her third novel about his adventures, Look to the Lady, in 1931, just two years after his first appearance in The Crime at Black Dudley. 

Campion and his butler and ex-offender sidekick, Magersfonteing Lugg, rescue the son of a baronet, Val Gyrth, from violent criminals attempting to kidnap him. They offer to help him prevent the theft of a rare family heirloom, the Gyrth Chalice, but as soon as they arrive with him at his family home in Suffolk, they discover his aunt has been found dead in mysterious circumstances.

Campion sets out to solve the mystery of the aunt’s death and work out how to protect the valuable chalice, which the Gyrth family have been guarding for the nation for more than a thousand years. 

To solve the mystery, Campion has to go out with an elderly professor to try to find the ‘monster’ hiding in nearby woodland that has been terrorising the local people for years. 

Look to the Lady has been republished by Vintage Book
Look to the Lady has been
republished by Vintage Books
After infiltrating the headquarters of the gang plotting to steal the chalice, Campion is imprisoned by them, until a band of gypsies helps him to escape. 

Then he has to ride a wild, black horse five miles across open countryside to be in time to prevent the theft of the chalice from its home high up in a tower. 

Although Margery Allingham was writing during the Golden Age of detective fiction, Look to the Lady is less of a cosy, village mystery and more of a sophisticated, fast-moving novel of suspense.

Agatha Christie has been quoted as saying: ‘Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light,’ and, in her day, Margery was regarded as one of the four Queens of Crime, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. 

Look to the Lady was first published in Great Britain by Jarrolds more than 90 years ago, but it has now been republished by Vintage Books, part of the Penguin Random House Group. It remains an exciting, addictive page turner and I can highly recommend it.

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(Suffolk woodland photo by Benjamin Thomas via Pixabay)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The fourth Queen of Crime

Remembering the brilliant writing of Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham wrote 18 novels featuring her detective, Albert Campion
Margery Allingham wrote 18 novels
featuring her detective, Albert Campion
Crime novelist Margery Allingham, who died on this day in 1966, was a prolific writer during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. 

She left a legacy of 18 Albert Campion mysteries, six volumes of short stories featuring the detective and many stand-alone novels, novellas and volumes of short stories. With Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh she became known as one of the four Queens of Crime.

Margery died of cancer in hospital in Colchester six weeks after her 62nd birthday. She was in the process of writing her last novel, Cargo of Eagles, and had mapped out the story long before her death, so that her husband, Philip Youngman Carter, was able to finish it as she herself would have done, according to her plan.

In a preface to Mr Campion’s Clowns, an omnibus of novels by Margery Allingham, published in 1967, Youngman Carter paid tribute to his late wife as ‘a generous, kind and courageous woman with a rare gift for friendship’.

Margery showed wonderful insight into character and her books abound in witty and accurate observations of people, with an especially keen eye for an eccentric. As she matured as a writer, her books became deeper and started to encompass significant themes, such as love and justice, good and evil, and illusion and truth. Her works have now attained classic status and she has, at times been  compared to Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson 

The Crime at Black Dudley was Allingham's breakthrough
The Crime at Black Dudley
was Allingham's breakthrough
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, the gentleman sleuth 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 Sayers’ hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, but Campion matured as the series of books progressed and proved there was a lot more to him, and he became increasingly popular with readers.

Vintage Books, part of the Penguin Random House Group, have now republished all Margery Allingham’s novels featuring her series detective Albert Campion, making it likely that some will eventually be stocked by public libraries.

Margery Allingham's novels are available from or


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