I think I always knew that golden age detective fiction wasn’t really my bag (the inimitable Dame Christie aside) but participating in Crimes of the Century has confirmed it. This month’s foray into 1937 introduced me to Margery Allingham’s most famous creation: Albert Campion. I now know that this story is something of an aberration in that it is told in the first-person point of view by Campion but I’m not sure a more straight-forward narrative would endear the character to me more strongly. He is, to me, (yet another) upper crust Englishman surrounded by a phalanx of servants, private school chums and cap-doffing sycophants and the whole set up makes me squirm.
In his favour Albert Campion did not irk me quite as much as Ms Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey (who I met last year) but that’s not actually saying a lot. I suppose I was predisposed to irritation given the first lines of the story
“The main thing to remember in autobiography, I have always thought, is not to let any damned modesty creep in to spoil the story. This adventure is mine, Albert Campion’s, and I am fairly certain that I was pretty near brilliant in it in spite of the fact that I so nearly got myself and old Lugg killed that I hear a harp quintet whenever I consider it.”
I’m not much of a one for an unfettered ego. The rest of the characters meld into a couple of stereotypes in my memory; insipid for the women, in-bred old school chum for the chaps. Not counting Lugg of course who is Campion’s … manservant I suppose…and an ex (?) criminal whose purpose was lost on me.
The story was a complicated thing to do with disguised bodies, dodgy doctors and some fairly obvious wordplay. When reading the print version I had no clue what was going on by the end because I just wasn’t interested enough to pay attention. So I had another go at it by downloading the audio book and listened while stuck in traffic. That format was more agreeable (or there was less for me to be distracted by) and at least I cottoned on to the salient points of the plot but it still seemed to be one of those golden age novels that was telling a story that no one could ever mistake for reality, not even for a moment. Or maybe there was a world in which people acted and spoke like utter gits but if so it’s not a world I’m particularly engaged by.
Over at Tipping My Fedora Sergio talks much more positively and eloquently about this book and Ms Allingham in general but one point on which we agree is that there is more than a hint of P.G. Wodehouse about this tale which might be all you need to know. I have never gotten on with Wodehouse but if you do then I suspect you’ll like Albert Campion. But then you probably already know that.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator David Thorpe
Publisher Audio edition Audible Studios 2013, Paperback edition Penguin 2009, original edition 1937
Length 4 hours 14 minutes / 138 pages
Format audio (mp3) / paperback
Book Series #8 (or #9) in the Albert Campion series
Source of review copy I bought both editions