Margery Louise Allingham was born in Ealing, a western suburb of London on May 20, 1904. Though not as popular as either Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote about the same time, Allingham’s stories have an appeal all their own. Her fictional detective is the ever self-effacing Albert Campion, tall, spectacled, and immensely clever. He first showed up in The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929. He was not the hero of that story, but as Allingham said later, he kept tugging at her sleeve until she put him in his own story. In his first solo outing Mystery Mile, he is introduced this way, “a pale young man who seemed to be hiding behind his enormous spectacles.” People tend to think he is a bit touched in the head until he springs the trap on them. Unlike Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey, we never really get to know Albert. He remains a mysterious figure, having several names. Even Campion is a pseudonym, chosen so as to not embarrass his aristocratic family, whoever they might be.
One of the joys of Allingham’s books is her ability to sketch in a character in a few sentences whom you would recognize if you met. Here is how she describes a vicar in Mystery Mile. “Their visitor, the Reverend Swithin Cush … was a lank old man with a hooked nose and deep-set twinkling black eyes surrounded by a thousand wrinkles. His long silky white hair was cut by Biddy herself when it got past his collar, and his costume consisted of a venerable suit of plus-fours, darned at the knees and elbows with a variety of wools…”
Another thing I like is watching Albert grow up. In the early stories, he is an adventurer, a “universal aunt,” as he says. By the end, he is in his sixties, and the stories themselves are more sedate and serious.
There are many memorable characters in the stories. Campion’s butler and partner in crime is Magersfontein Lugg, described as a “mountain of a man.” He was a promising burglar until he as he says, “lost his figure.” Another is the lugubrious Stanislaw Oates, the Scotland Yard detective with whom Albert often works. As you see, she loves interesting names!
If you have never read Allingham, may I suggest you start with Look to the Lady, which to my mind is the best of the early stories.
Quotes by Margery Allingham
Mourning is not forgetting… It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust.
I write every paragraph four times – once to get my meaning down, once to put in anything I have left out, once to take out anything that seems unnecessary, and once to make the whole thing sound as if I had only just thought of it.
Waiting is one of the great arts.
The process of elimination, combined with a modicum of common sense, will always assist us to arrive at the correct conclusion with the maximum of possible accuracy and the minimum of hard labor. Which being translated means: I guessed it.
But there are roughly two sorts of informed people, aren’t there? People who start off right by observing the pitfalls and mistakes and going round them, and the people who fall into them and get out and know they’re there because of that. They both come to the same conclusions but they don’t have quite the same point of view.
When the habitually even-tempered suddenly fly into a passion, that explosion is apt to be more impressive than the outburst of the most violent amongst us.
Love so seldom means happiness.
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