December 3, 2014
Just recently we’ve heard that a long-forgotten work of Raymond Chandler’s has been unearthed, languishing in the dusty stacks of the Library of Congress. But before you get too excited, a few things to note: 1) The literary agent who represents Chandler’s estate is refusing, for the moment at least, to allow the piece to be published; 2) The piece…the piece. The piece is not the second coming of The Big Sleep. It is in fact the libretto for a comic, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style opera called “The Princess and the Pedlar”; 3) You know how Chandler is widely regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) stylists of hard-boiled fiction, famous as much for the quality of his prose as for the creation of Philip Marlowe? “The Princess and the Pedlar” seems unlikely to enhance that reputation. I say this based only on the following lyric, courtesy of the Guardian: “Criminals dyed with the deepest dyes/Hated of all the good and wise, Soaked in crime to the hair and eyes/Very unpleasant are we.” What can I say? Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
I guess he got better as he got older. A whole bunch better.
And yet I will jump on “The Princess and the Pedlar,” if it ever does see the published light of day, and I will meander down some likely-looking mean streets in search of a bootleg copy, and I will do whatever I can to read the thing because.
Because it’s more Chandler. And more Chandler is good, end of story.
And the beginning of the next one, which is not about Chandler at all. It is, however, about someone else who seemed to be done, down for the count, only to bounce back: Albert Campion. That curious, quip-happy gentleman, with a nose for trouble and a knack for getting others out of it.
Margery Allingham, Campion’s creator, died in 1966. Her last Campion novel, Cargo of Eagles, was published two years later, having been completed – at her request – by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter. To have a book come out two years after one’s death! That would seem to be enough immortality for anyone.
But Miss Allingham clearly had enough life-spark for two lives – or perhaps Mr. Campion did. In 1969 a new Campion adventure, Mr Campion’s Farthing, was issued, followed the next year by Mr Campion’s Falcon. Both had been written in their entirety by Youngman Carter, and the New York Times, at least, breathed a sigh of relief: Mr. Campion, they said, was “in excellent hands.”
Were they Allingham hands? No. We could slap “Just as good as when the Missus wrote’em!” on the front covers, in the hope of pulling in a few gullible punters, but we don’t lie to you. However, they are jolly good reads, in the fine Campion tradition. And as with Mr. Chandler, more Campion is good, end of story.
More Campion on sale? That may be an even better story. This week, 25% off Albert (we’ll throw in Rupert Campion, Albert’s sleuthing sprog, for free).
And no, they are not Margery (though we can say, with some reasonable assurance, I think, that they are also not “The Princess and the Pedlar”). But how can you possibly resist Albert Campion in the Age of Disco???