The Fashion in Shrouds, by Margery Allingham. Kindle Edition
I am such a fan of Allingham’s books, and it is always a pleasure to read one. But it
is not so easy to write a review, as I find myself feeling inadequate to do her writing the justice it deserves. Once I’ve said her writing is masterful, what can I add?
This book is notable for the return of Amanda Fitton, previously met as a flame-haired teenager in Sweet Danger. It is six years later; she is now Lady Amanda, she has completed her education and she is an engineer at Alandel aeroplane company. Quite a strong identity for a young woman at the time this book was written.
Besides Amanda and Albert Campion, there is a host of memorable characters in this story. Albert’s sister Valentine is a prominent fashion designer with the very successful firm of Papendeik. There is the beautiful Georgia Wells, a gifted actress who is very self-absorbed and has some difficulty distinguishing her stage world from real life.
We enter the world of fashion with a luncheon at the Papendeik establishment, with Albert, Val, and Georgia Wells in attendance, along with Georgia’s larger-than-life husband Sir Raymond Ramillies, her leading man, and entertainment entrepreneur, Ferdie Paul, and Alan Dell, a genius at aeronautics.
The drama unfolds slowly but relentlessly as the web of relationships and life events unfolds. Center stage, as befits her, is Georgia (Lady Ramillies) and her complicated story of marriages and romantic alliances. Campion, it transpires, has been hired by the father of Richard Portland-Smith to find out what happened to his son, who was engaged to Georgia and then vanished without a trace. Subsequently, Georgia married Ramillies. When Portland-Smith’s body is finally discovered, his death is ruled as a suicide. But before too long, Ramillies is also dead under suspicious circumstances. From there, the ramifications of these two deaths have impacted most of the central characters in the story.
Albert Campion is challenged to unravel these mysteries and untangle the complex relationships here. In the process, the romantic lives of Valentine, Georgia, Alan Dell, Campion, and Amanda are also on view. This is an intriguing tale, a puzzling mystery, and a very satisfying read despite the negative events encountered by the players.
The Tiger in the Smoke (A Campion Mystery) by Margery Allingham. Kindle edition.
This review represents quite a leap in my experience of re-reading the Allingham books. In The Fashion in Shrouds (see above), Albert Campion is a young man with an emerging reputation, not yet married. Now, in The Tiger in the Smoke, it is at least twenty years later, and “Albert” is happily married to the Lady Amanda Fitton and has a family. Familiar characters are still present, but Lugg is now doing nanny duty for the Campion children, and Stanislaus Oates is Assistant Commissioner and head of Scotland Yard. The central theme of the story is the upcoming marriage of Meg Elginbrodde and daughter of the venerable Canon Avril. Meg lost her husband Martin in the war, and now is set to marry Geoffrey, but this happy anticipation is cut short when there are indications that Martin may still be alive. Enter Scotland Yard and ”Albert Campion”.
I think of Allingham books as skillful constructions–she is as much an architect as a writer. Clearly, the structure is in place, and she introduces us to it in her own characteristic fashion: word by word, phrase by phrase, as she builds her edifice before our wondering eyes. We meet memorable characters masterfully sketched in indelible lines with a few sentences. We encounter exquisite descriptive passages that are poetic in their deliberate beauty.
Along with the breathtaking beauty of the words, we meet a tale of great and overarching evil met by goodness, even Godliness, of equal measure. The London fog (the “smoke”) is an important character-the swirling grey mists permeate nearly every scene. The villain of the piece–the “Tiger” is a man whose worst qualities are only too apparent to Oates, although Luke, the lead investigator of the piece, does not fully appreciate what his superior officer is telling him about the character known as “Havoc.” But Campion knows.
It seems to me that Allingham has exceeded her own high level of achievement in this tale. Here is dramatically portrayed an epic battle between the forces of good and evil–magnificent, spellbinding, and relentless. The “evil” here is the character known as Havoc, while the “good” is the Canon Avril. The story comes full circle in the climactic scene between Havoc and Avril, and ultimately resolves in an extraordinary way. It is a terrible, but ultimately satisfying.