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Monday, August 28, 2023

Mystery Series - Albert Campion

Margery Allingham (Fair Use) Margery Allingham (Fair Use)
Margery Allingham, 1904-1966, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her primary detective is Albert Campion, an odd character who may have been purposly developed to be the exact opposite of Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey. The first of these books was written when Allingham was only 23. Campion is tall and thin, wiry and toothy, with an overbite and a receeding chin. He doesn't appear to be mentally competent, let alone intimidating. In short, I find him hilarious.

Campion matures over the course of the series, but in the beginning one is not sure whether he's a freelance adventurer, a crook, or a police agent. He appears to be a man-for-hire to do any sort of dangerous task. There's a hint that he's from a famous Brit family.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Albert Campion
Magersfontein Lugg, his servant

#1 The Crime at Black Dudley/The Black Dudley Murder (US title), 1929
This first in the series is told mostly from the point of view of George Abbershaw, a medical examiner who occasionally does work for Scotland Yard. He has wrangled an invitation to a party because the girl he thinks he's in love with is going to be there. The party is in a huge old castle of a house in the middle of nowhere. The guests are mostly young people except for an uncle of the young owner, Wyatt. The uncle was a war veteran and wears a mask to hide his disfigured face. There are also two other silent and hulking men in the party.

The young host tells a tale from the family history involving an ancient dagger and a game played in the dark. Everyone wants to play. During the 15 minutes of darkness, the uncle dies of an apparent heart attack.

Following this, the two strangers take over the house and demand the return of some papers that also went missing during the game.

This story is extremely well done. The old house has everything it should-- secret passages and rooms, no electricity, a remote location. There is a continual challenge for the reader to figure out what is really going on underneath what the characters say. There is the romance of George and Meggie.

The figure of Campion is introduced, although he's not a major character. Following this book, the public wanted more of this strange little man, and Allingham complied.

#2 Mystery Mile, (1930)
Mystery Mile is the name of a village out on the salt flats of a peninsula. The "mystery mile" is a bank of fog that always fills a long valley, rendering it dangerous at various stages of the tide.

Campion is friends with the owners of the manor house, and takes it upon himself to "hide" an American judge there whom the criminal mob is trying to kill, or at least warn off. The American has a son and daughter who get along famously with the young man and his sister who own the manor house.

But somone is still stalking the judge. A completely annoying art dealer is trying to buy one of the family paintings, and an itinerant fortune teller shows up for an evening of amusement. The vicar commits suicide. Then the judge completely disappears!

(It's hard to believe that Allingham was only in her 20s when these first few books were written. She gets the young people right, but she also gets all the characters right.)

#3 Look to the Lady/The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (US title), 1931
This book is brimming with all sorts of British midaeval traditions, a tower with a secret door, faeries, monsters, and witches. Or maybe not!

Campion has now stopped taking any sort of cheap assignment he can find. An uncle has left him money, and he is now free to choose the sorts of jobs he likes. The assignment this time is to protect a chalice that was supposedly made before 1066 AD that has been entrusted to the care of the Gyrth family throughout British history. Campion befriends "Val," Percival Gyrth who will be inducted into the family secrets surrounding the chalice on his upcoming 25th birthday.

Meanwhile, his aunt has decided to take on her role as "Maid of the Cup," an assignment that has been downplayed in recent years. She shows the chalice in public, much to the embarrassement of the family. Organized crime is trying to steal the chalice and is currying favor with Aunt Di.

Several days later, she is found dead in the faerie ground, apparently having died of fright at seeing something dreadful. Then Campion's servant sees it too!

This is a wonderfully improbable plot, but it's enticingly easy to believe in old legends.

#4 Police at the Funeral, 1931
Campion now calls himself a Deputy Adventurer. He agrees to meet a young woman as a favor to a friend to discuss the disappearance of one of her uncles and gets sucked into one of the most dysfunctional families you can imagine. Great-Aunt Caroline rules the collection of close and distant relatives with an iron hand, and she can get away with it since she supports them all.

Members of this family group begin to die, and it really looks as if one of the other persons in the family is doing the killings.

#5 Sweet Danger/Kingdom of Death/FearSign (US titles), 1933
This book has everything expected of a Brit mystery from the "transitional" time period. To me, that means the changes from the older, days of earls ruling over areas from a mansion with its accompanying village and days of hard beliefs in the supernatural to the more modern concepts of freedoms for women and scientific methods.

The line of the Earl of Averna has apparently ended, yet the humble Hal, whose family runs the near-defunct mill, believes he is the rightful heir, but no one can prove that his father actually married his mother before going off to World War I and losing his life. Albert and friends set about to find the items mentioned in a riddle which will restore the earldom, but some shady characters are also hard on the trail for reasons of their own. The local doctor also has an agenda that doesn't suit anyone.

Young Amanda, Hal's sister, shows tremendous spunk and wins Albert's admiration. The bad guy meets a classic fate.

#6 Death of a Ghost, 1934
The famous painter, John Lafcadio, died several years ago, but he has left a series of painting to be unveiled, one per year, to keep his name in the public eye, and to boost the value of his works.

His family and friends are the eclectic bunch you would expect of an artist. The widow is a holdout for an earlier generation, although she still manages to function as the matriarch. In her household live the former "inspiration," Beatrice, a woman of shocking honesty who sees auras around people, the granddaughter, a young artist herself who was planning to marry another young artist. However, he married an Italian woman, only for convenience, so he could get her into the country to be his model.

There is also the man who used to mix the master's paints and his wife, who more or less serve the family but are also somewhat independent.

The other major character is Max Fustian, who is the man left in charge of the yearly presentations of the Lafcadio paintings.

The lights go out, and one of the players is stabbed. Max confesses, but things are not as they seem.

The fate of the guilty party is a classic cop-out, but then... I've used it myself. It is classic, after all.

#7 Flowers for the Judge/Legacy in Blood (US title), 1936

#8 The Case of the Late Pig, 1937

#9 Dancers in Mourning/ Who Killed Chloe? (US title), 1937

#10 The Fashion in Shrouds, 193)

#11 Traitor's Purse/The Sabotage Murder Mystery (US title), 1941

#12 Coroner's Pidgin/Pearls Before Swine (US title), 1945

#13 More Work for the Undertaker, 1948

#14 The Tiger in the Smoke, 1952

#15 The Beckoning Lady/The Estate of the Beckoning Lady (US title), 1955)

#16 Hide My Eyes/Tether's End/Een were Missing (US titles), 1958

#17 The China Governess, 1962

#18 The Mind Readers, 1965

the series was continued by other authors, and there are a number of short stories to be added to the list.

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