May 20, 2015
Today is Margery Allingham’s birthday.
Allingham, best known for the “Albert Campion” series, is the “queen of crime” critic Sarah Weinman has called “the most resistant to classification.” Indeed, Allingham’s writing, which began with frothy capers like The Crime at Black Dudley and Sweet Danger, grew quite dark in the post-war period. That something-for-everyone quality of her books got us thinking about our favorite Allinghams.
Maggie’s favorite is Hide My Eyes, a “chilling yarn about a psychopath and the aging woman who loves him.” Together with The Tiger in the Smoke, widely-regarded as Allingham’s best, Hide My Eyes resembles less classic golden era mysteries than the psychologically inflected writing of authors like PD James and Ruth Rendell.
Julia’s favorite is Traitor’s Purse, an earlier book with an arresting premise English novelist A S Byatt (who also counts this as her favorite Allingham) describes as “the single best idea I’ve met in detective fiction”:
During the phony war, Campion is knocked on the head and wakes with almost complete amnesia in a hospital. He spends the whole, taut novel not knowing who he is – nor who Amanda is, nor who Lugg is.
It becomes clear that he alone is in possession of a dreadful secret that threatens his country. He has to foil a plot at the same time that he has to discover who he is.
Because he is vacant he forgets to look vacant – “almost intelligent”, Amanda says he looks. Because he forgets to act a part he becomes a man of action. Because he forgets Amanda he realises he loves her. And of course he foils the plot. If I had to vote for the single best detective story, this would be it.
British writer H.R.F. Keating, in a 2004 article for Mystery Scene, declared More Work for the Undertaker, the first of the postwar Campions, to be his favorite (he listed it as one of the 100 best crime and mystery books in 1987). What Keating appreciates most is that novel’s impressive “galaxy” of characters, all of whom come across as “altogether lifelike, if a bit skewed by the chance oddness of their circumstances.”
We would love to know what your favorite Allingham is. And if you have yet to get started, now would be a good time to do so: All of our Margery Allingham titles are on sale.