Monday, August 2, 2010

Albert Campion

From the diaries of W.H. Lewis [C.S. Lewis's older brother]:
This afternoon I got a Margery Allingham Omnibus from the library, with a foreword by her husband Youngman Carter from which I learnt with regret that the poor woman died of "a sudden and devouring cancer" on June 30, 1966. Pax cineribus. She'll be a great loss in the field of 'teccie [detective] writers. Why, I wonder, does the 'teccie provide a medium for so many women writers, most of them too at the top of the field in this genre—Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth—and all of them outstanding. [Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, 6 May 1969]
Somewhere [I no longer remember where] I read that Margery Allingham was a friend of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Helen Davidman. I have been an Allingham reader since I was a teenager. A friend returned from the wilds of northern Minnesota with an Albert Campion book which he lent me after which I read them all and acquired most of them. It is very pleasant to learn that an author you enjoy was known to one you admire.

Margery Allingham was one of those "Golden Age" detective writers, along with Sayers and others "Warnie" mentions whose detectives provide enduring entertainment without any of the moral concerns contemporary thriller writers often elicit. If you haven't read them, the Margery Allingham books provide an innocent form of entertainment. The Campion DVDs were also entertaining. I just started re-reading some of the early ones, The Crime at Black Dudley [1929], and Mystery Mile [1930] (the map), and continue to be entertained.

H.R.F. Keating included one of her Campion books in his Crimes and Mystery: The 100 Best Books and wrote:
Each time I read More Work for the Undertaker—and I am inclined to re-read it quite frequently—I find myself thinking 'surely there can't be a crime story more burstingly alive.' Margery Allingham had, supremely, the gift of energy. It infuses all her books giving them, in the cookbook expression, a rich consistency. Her best stories, and More Work for the Undertaker is certainly one of those, give us worlds stamped with her particular outlook, richly romantic yet springing undeniably from the actual world in which she lived.

She had energy of observation. She takes, time and again, simple, ordinary objects and transforms them almost into living people. 'On the desk,' we read here, the telephone squatted patiently'; or we have the police detective, the tough, vivid Charlie Luke, ringing for the landlady in the private room of a pub, thumping 'the hump-backed bell on the table.'

She had energy of characterisation. Here is the local doctor, seen through Charlie Luke's eyes: 'A tallish old boy—well, not so very old, fifty-five—married to a shrew. Overworked. Over-conscientious. Comes out of his flat nagged to a rag in the mornings and goes down to his surgery room with a shop front like a laundry...stooping. Back like a camel. Loose trousers, poking at the seat as if God were holding him up by the centre buttons. Head stuck out like a tortoise, waving slightly. Worried eyes. Good chap. Kind. Not as bright as some (no time for it) but professional. Professional gent.'

She had moral energy. Her earliest books [Note: the ones I'm reading now] were simply detective yarns, swingeingly told. But with the years she began to see that this sort of thing could be used—cried out to be used—to convey her deepest thoughts about the world and the people in it. World War II, during which her crime muse fell silent, advanced this belief by a great bound, as this, her second post-war book, shows. ....