Monday, February 17, 2014

Mystery Mile, Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham's Mystery Mile (1930) features Albert Campion in his first starring role, after having appeared in a supporting role in the previous year's The Crime at Black Dudley (see review below).

Campion exaggerates his importance in the foregoing case, though, saying "That's the Black Dudley dagger.... An old boy I met was stuck in the back with that, and everyone thought I'd done the sticking. Not such fun."

Allingham presents Campion as more than an amateur detective, less than a mercenary, and not quite a crook. And, throughout, Campion disguises his keen intelligence with nearly non-stop patter:
"What a gastronomic failure the British Burglar is," he remarked, reappearing. "A tin of herrings, half a Dutch cheese, some patent bread for reducing the figure, and several bottles of stout. Still better than nothing.... The whisky's there, too, and there's a box of biscuits somewhere. Night scene in Mayfair flat -- four herring addicts, addicting." 
As B.A. Pike points out in Campion's Career: A Study of the Novels of Margery Allingham, the chief distinction of Mystery Mile is that it introduces Campion's gentleman's gentleman Lugg:
Lugg is first brought to our notice as a "thick and totally unexpected voice" on the telephone, huskily announcing himself as "Aphrodite Glue Works".... His actual appearance is delayed until ... he is revealed as "the largest and most lugubrious individual ... a hillock of a man, with a big pallid face which reminded one of a bull-terrier...." His criminal antecedents are delicately hinted at -- he wears "what looked remarkably like a convict's tunic" -- and the special nature of his relation with Campion -- mutual derision veiling the deepest affection and trust -- is defined in the first of many entertaining dialogues.
Late in Mystery Mile, the villain, the head of a secret criminal cabal, reveals that Campion had been "once commissioned by us on a rather delicate mission in an affair at a house called Black Dudley." Allingham, however, lets this revelation waft off in the breeze and moves merrily along to the conclusion of the case at hand.

If nothing else, Allingham keeps these early Campion books moving along. One gets the sense that she is making them up as she goes along, often losing her way. For instance, once gangsters kidnap a female character the search for Mystery Mile's original missing person falls by the wayside, seemingly forgotten by all.

Phillip Youngman Carter, in his preface to the short-story collection The Allingham Casebook, says the early novels "reflect the mood of the time and into them she crammed every idea, every joke and every scrap of plot which we had gathered like magpies hoarded for a year."

Inconsequential, silly fun.

Two daggers out of four.

No comments:

Post a Comment