- Death of a Ghost
The enigmatic “Albert Campion” is invited to a remarkable art showing by the widow of painter John Sebastian Lafcadio. This is the eighth of twelve scheduled events to exhibit a set of posthumous works left by the temperamental artist with explicit instructions about the annual showing of the paintings, one at a time. But the carefully choreographed event goes seriously awry when the lights go out. When they are restored one of the attendees is found stabbed. This last event, needless to say, was not in the exhibition script.
Albert Campion is noted for his ability to solve puzzling crimes. He is also known to be mild-mannered and inoffensive to a remarkable extent. Therefore, it is shocking for those of us who know Albert when he becomes really angry in this story. The question here, you see, is not the identity of the murderer. The exasperating challenge here is to prove what is already known.
For Albert does know, early on, who is behind the murder. Indeed, the murderer knows that he knows, and taunts him expertly and incessantly with high good humor. After all Albert’s efforts go unrewarded, there is a startling and surprising resolution.
Once again, Allingham’s ability to create fascinating characters and intriguing situations makes for a tour de force of the writer’s art.
- Flowers for the Judge
With every book of hers that I read, I am reminded anew that Margery Allingham was simply a magnificent writer. Flowers for the Judge is no exception.
This is a fascinating tale filled with characters we come to know and have definite feelings for–or against. Once again Albert Campion and the excellent Lugg combine their abilities to the matter at hand. I’ve always been fond of Lugg–there is a curious fascination with his character in all its eccentric flamboyance.
In the chapter describing the Coroner’s inquest, aptly titled “Inquisition” Miss Allingham constructs the coroner’s case before our eyes, with a procession of well-defined characters. With surgical precision, Miss Allingham uses the words of these witnesses to construct a case board-by-board and nail-by-nail, until at the last we view with amazement a sturdy gallows for the perpetrator of the murder that is the central subject of the book. We and the coroner’s jury are left with no question but that it was deliberately planned. The identity of the guilty party is less apparent, and we are left hoping that somehow the jury has erred in this last portion of their duty.
The excellence of that chapter is manifest throughout this intricately woven story of families and personalities, of justice obliquely but firmly served. Once again, quite masterful in its richness of settings and personalities. I am simply in awe of Allingham’s writing ability that holds our fascination through many complexities and happenings. Oh, and what about the title? It seems that there is a tradition in this British court to bring a fragrant nosegay for the judge, to sweeten the aromas that august personage is subjected to: perhaps a metaphor for the events of the story at hand.
- The Case of the Late Pig
Well now, “Albert Campion”, as alter ego for Margery Allingham, has some fun with us in this one. Styled as a bit of autobiography, Mr. Campion relates to us how he receives a cryptic anonymous letter. At precisely the same time his man Lugg reads a funeral notice for one R. I. Peters, whereupon Mr. Campion recalls “Pig” Peters as an uncommonly unpleasant schoolmate whose funeral he vowed one day to attend.
Mr. Campion launches into his story with his attendance in January at the last rites for the aforementioned Peters. He is therefore taken aback when six months later he is called upon to view the newly deceased body of Pig Peters!
The tale unfolds with a decidedly baroque flavor to it, and Albert doesn’t quite tell it straight. He peppers his narrative with occasional side comments on how wrong he was, thus leading us–his surrogate allies–blithely down the primrose path. He drops pointed hints of barely-noticed details that he realized later were important. It’s all quite intriguing and also exasperating.
This is an entertaining, ingeniously plotted tale. Albert (Miss Allingham) dazzles us with fancy footwork and literary sleight of hand. The surreal quality of the story makes us wonder, in the end, if Albert/Margery was just having us on?
My thanks to Camilla of the Margery Allingham Estate for making an advance copy of this box set available for me to read and review.