Review: THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG by Margery Allingham

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
ASBN B00BQG9AF8
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

This entry was posted in book review, England, Margery Allingham and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Review: THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG by Margery Allingham

  1. Thanks for the kind words (Well, the ones about me 😉). The one to try really is TIGER IN THE SMOKE – It is certainly much clearer there why Allingham was so different from your average GAD author

    Liked by 1 person

  2. richmonde says:

    Also Hide My Eyes and The China Governess. The Late Pig has grown on me. Campion is being ironic. He drops a few details about being bullied by “Pig” at prep school (for boys aged 7-13), and stabbed with a compass until he fainted. Not so privileged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see that he’s being ironic…but even so it is just such a far cry from my frame of reference and that of my own family around the same time that it just reads like nonsense. I get that such things shouldn’t matter but I can’t help the eye rolling 😉

      Like

  3. PS Hi Bernadette – just wanted to add that while I clearly have a bit more tolerance for the GAD style than you (though it has slipped with the passing years and I am probably less fond of Christie than many), I would say that Campion as a character is very far away from the toffee-nosed twittery of the likes of Wimsey and Alleyn. There is the suggestion, very early on, that he may be related to the royal family, but this is a bit of a joke really and he is clearly far more comfortable with the working classes. TIGER IN THE SMOKE is a masterpiece though and is a great novel – honest! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I admit my preference for Christie is really nothing to do with any superiority on her part…merely that she was the author I read in my impressionable pre-teen years – my fondness is tied up with much more than the characters and plots.

      And I promise to try TIGER IN THE SMOKE. Pity we’ve already covered 1952 in Crimes of the Century but I’ll dig out a copy and read it anyway 🙂

      Like

  4. “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”. Love your work, Bernadette!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never been a big fan of Allingham’s work, though The Tiger in the Smoke is my favourite and the strongest one I have read yet. Converse to yourself I think I prefer Wimsey to Campion, but then that might be because I have read far more Wimsey novels than Campion ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry to hear this one didn’t do it for you, Bernadette. I have to echo Sergio’s suggestion of Tiger in the Smoke for a better look at Allingham, if you ever decide to try her work again. But that aside, GA really isn’t for everyone. I think crime fiction has changed so much over the years that I can see how, if you prefer contemporary crime novels, you’d find the older ones less to your liking.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jerry House says:

    The problem with Albert Campion is that he’s been many characters over his career, from a Simon Templar-like rogue to a silly fop, from a mysterious member of the aristocracy to an erudite, reasoning detective. The facts that he’s changed so much over the years endears me to him and I enjoy all of his incarnations, save for the excretable THE MIND READERS. Read some more of Campion and you’ll find that he and THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG might grow on you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Ronald Smyth says:

    “It still seemed to be one of those golden age novels that was telling a story that no one could ever mistake for reality.” Now that makes me laugh. No book worth reading is likely to be mistaken for reality. They are works of art. If reality were enough we would all be literary geniuses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We might have to agree to disagree on this one. Even when reading fantasy or sci-fi I like stories in which the way people talk and behave with each other is within the realms of real human interaction – even if it’s the sort of dialogue you wish you had at your disposal instead of the mumbling, fumbling kind most of us get by with most of the time. What I struggle with is where fictional people behave and talk in ways that no real human ever could or would

      Like

  9. pastoffences says:

    I don’t think anybody has pointed out that this is the only first-person Campion (aside from some shorts). He doesn’t come across well, I admit…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did discover that afterwards Rich – but it’s your fault for choosing 1937…It’s struggle enough to find an eligible book for these early years out here in the antipodes…let alone a book that’s eligible and a good example of the author’s work 🙂

      Like

  10. Aubrey says:

    Probably my least favorite Allingham. I adored Flowers for the Judge and almost all of the others.

    Like

  11. FictionFan says:

    Hmm… I love PG Wodehouse, but have never taken to Campion. He’s my least favourite of the major Golden Age ‘tecs. Actually, putting Christie to one side as uniquely wonderful, I’ve been enjoying the re-releases that the British Library has been doing of ‘forgotten’ authors more than some of the ‘remembered’ ones – a lot of them manage to avoid that upper-class snobbery that Allingham, Marsh and Sayers were all so guilty of. I also listened to one of these audio versions of an Allingham recently, though, and found the narrator so good it actually made me almost enjoy it… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did enjoy the narrator for the audio book too…David Thorpe it was and he made it worthwhile.

      I shall keep an eye out for the British Library re-releases – a bit hard to come by as I try not to buy new books from overseas (gotta keep the local shops alive here) but I’ve got lots of alerts set up for second hand titles 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. tracybham says:

    I am not surprised that you did not like this one. I haven’t reread it yet (and I remember nothing from my first reading of all of her books), so not speaking from personal experience. Now I have to decide whether to read it next or put it off for a while. I do like Allingham’s novels, as you know. I am in the middle of Dancers in Mourning, which is also a book she wrote in 1937; I am liking it but I think it has the same problems as this one did. Definitely the characters are weird. Probably a good thing that you did not try Dancers in Mourning because it is at least twice as long as Case of the Late Pig. I have never read Wodehouse. When I am reading Allingham, I do feel like it is more fantasy-like than most Golden Age detective fiction, but that is part of what I like about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The world would be deathly dull if we all agreed Tracy…and at least I am trying these authors and occasionally finding a truly smashing book…even with the modern stuff there is a lot of dreck I’d be happy to consign to landfill

      Like

  13. Patti Abbott says:

    I read them all forty years ago and Allingham wasn’t holding up well even then. Give me a rough and tumble London copper any day.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. kathy d. says:

    I have to concur with Angela. Your language about books you like or dislike is just superb. This is why I must stop here on my usual round of reader-blogs. Even if a book is not my cup of tea I enjoy the review.
    I’m not a fan of Golden Age crime fiction. In fact, I can’t even figure out the language sometimes.
    And I would say give me a rough-and-tumble New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles cop, or one from Glasgow or London or Dublin or Paris or Stockholm in the contemporary world and I’m fine. Or in Australia somewhere. Or in South Africa or Latin America.
    Maybe I’ve just become more limited in my dotage. When I was a teen or in my twenties, I could read anything.
    But on Christie, I’ve said it before. I read some of her books but discovered when I was 19 that she was bigoted against Jewish people and immigrants of color. So I closed the book I was reading and that was the end of that. That’s my demarcation line, have no tolerance for it.
    But like these book reviews no matter what is the conclusion. The turn of phrase is always
    enjoyable..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the kind words about my reviews Kathy. I do enjoy writing them (such a nice change from the dull bureaucratic stuff I have to churn out for work) but it’s nice to know that you enjoy reading them too.

      I can’t blame you for feeling the way you do about Christie, I have seen it in her work but was more affected by other rampantly anti semitic authors like GK Chesterton. I’ve been reflecting on this issue since reading Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake – it doesn’t tackle this subject exactly but it does explore the notion of how things – including notions of ‘acceptability’ are a product of their time and how much or how little we should revise our view of things when seen from a different, more enlightened time.

      Like

  15. neer says:

    Well I love Wodehouse but am not fond of Campion or of Allingham for that matter. Like the others who have commented above, TIGER IN THE SMOKE is one Allingham that I liked. Enjoyed your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I am a big fan of Allingham, but this is not one of my favourites, I don’t blame you for taking against it. I feel that we would have similar backgrounds and political views, and yet those GA upper class idiots don’t annoy me in the same way – it’s a personal reaction isn’t it? Anyway, as I always say, I love it when you review a book you don’t like, it’s always terrific fun.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.