Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (aka Look to the Lady), Margery Allingham


Margery Allingham's The Gryth Chalice Mystery (1931), marking the third appearance of Albert Campion, features the seemingly inevitable car chase in an early chapter rather than as a climax. But worry not as Campion himself ultimately rides to the rescue on horseback!

Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hartig Taylor's brief review in A Catalogue of Crime reads: "An early story with good scenes and relieved from murder by elegant robbery and clerical personages, but somewhat touched by the excessive lightheartedness of the period. Fortunately short, and thus worth an hour's inspection."

JB & WHT seem to have forgotten the death of Mrs. Dick -- which, putting Barbera's cart rather ahead of Hanna's horse, might make one think of Scooby-Doo --, and of a "clerical personage" in the novel I have no memory. Maybe, confusing scholarly with clerical, they meant the American professor?

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," and that is certainly the case here, so much so that the death of Mrs. Dick, once resolved is simply forgotten.

For all of its absurdities -- did someone mention Gypsies? -- The Gryth Chalice Mystery has some nice exchanges such as:
The girl looked at him incredulously. "What is that man Lugg?" she said.

[Campion] adjusted his spectacles. "It depends how you mean," he said. "A species, definitely human, I should say, oh yes, without a doubt. Status -- none. Past -- filthy. Occupation -- my valet."

Penny laughed. I wondered if he were your keeper," she suggested.
And here's Campion on the art of detection:
"The process of elimination," said he oracularly [...], "combined with a modicum of common sense, will always assist us to arrive at the correct conclusion with the maximum of possible accuracy and the minimum of hard labour. Which being translated means: I guessed it."
Two daggers out of four.

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