In January 1988, Pat Watt sent out the following letter and a "taster"
newsletter to form the Margery Allingham Society
The Margery Allingham Society
Thank you for waiting so patiently to hear more of the Margery Allingham Society. I am
glad to say that we now have a sufficient number of people interested to make this
viable and I do hope that you will feel able to join.
I enclose a "taster" newsletter, which I hope will inspire you to contribute to future
newsletters, of which we hope to publish two a year. In this way we should have a lively
and interesting exchange of ideas.
The annual subscription if £5 for members in the U.K. and £6 for members in the U.S. In
view of the high bank charges for currency conversion, I regret that I must ask U.S.
members to pay in sterling.
We must soon form a Steering Committee to agree a Constitution and to elect the first
officers. I hope it may be possible to meet centrally to do this, but if necessary the
business can be conducted by post. If you are prepared to help, please tick the box on
the application form.
Margery Allingham was born in Ealing on 20th May, 1904 into a family who had been writers
for several generations. Shortly after her birth her family moved to Layer Breton, near
Colchester, and she was to spend the greater part of her life in this area of Essex.
She was encouraged to write by her Father and by the age of eight had a story published
in one of her aunt's papers.
She attended the Perse School, Cambridge, where she wrote and produced a costume play.
She left at sixteen to attend the School of Drama and Speech Training at the Polytechnic
in Regent Street. Here, at the age of 17, she wrote and produced an heroic verse drama "Dido and Aeneas".
In 1921 she met Philip Youngman Carter, when he came to London as an art student, and
of whom she had heard since childhood from a mutual courtesy aunt. They married in 1927
and lived in a tiny flat in Holborn. Here she earned her living by writing "the story of
the film" for one of her aunt's papers "The Girl's Cinema" and also pieces for the
Northcliffe Empire. During this time her first three Campion books were written. In 1934
they bought D'Arcy House, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, which was to be their permanent home for the
rest of her life.
Most of the war years were spent here and a vivid account of her life at this time is to
be found in her book THE OAKEN HEART, published in 1941, which has recently been republished
by Sarsen Publishing. Her other works are surveyed by Barry Pike on the following pages.
She died on 30th June, 1966 and her husband three years later.
Margery Allingham's first novel was BLACKKERCHIEF DICK, a historical romance prompted by a series of seances, which gave her much of her material. She then attempted a novel about youth in the 'twenties, entitled GREEN CORN, but never published.
Her third novel was THE WHITE COTTAGE MYSTERY, first published when she was twenty-three, as a newspaper serial. Though she came to dislike it, it has merit, and it showed her the way she was to go. All but one of her later novels (and most of her stories) are criminous.
Albert Campion first appeared in THE CRIME AT BLACK DUDLEY, published by Jarrolds in 1928. He is almost a grotesque, with protruding teeth and a falsetto voice. His status is uncertain, until his hidden depths are revealed. He is not the Woosterish ass he appears — and his club is not the Drones', but 'one of the most famous and exclusive...in the world'. On his first appearance and in three other early novels, Campion is an 'adventurer' (from MYSTERY MILE, rather more obviously in command of what is toward). These books are exuberant and inventive, LOOK TO THE LADY and SWEET DANGER particularly so. Campion's man, Lugg, a picturesque ex-convict, first appears in MYSTERY MILE, and his future wife, Amanda, with her red hair and heart-shaped face, in SWEET DANGER.
POLICE AT THE FUNERAL is a pure, classical whodunit that introduces Campion to more serious responsibilities. It takes him to Cambridge and features 'Uncle' William Faraday, an endearing old humbug who surfaces again later. It is a novel of real distinction, poised and intricate, and meticulously achieved.
Most of the other 'thirties novels focus on a particular creative sphere: DEATH OF A GHOST on painting, FLOWERS FOR THE JUDGE on publishing, DANCERS IN MOURNING on the musical theatre, and THE FASHION IN SHROUDS on haute couture. They are all highly accomplished and combine the novel of manners with the mystery. All are enriched and distinguished by especially interesting features. DEATH OF A GHOST abandons the formal pattern well before the end, partly to show the decline of the killer into madness. FLOWERS FOR THE JUDGE has extended trial scenes and a supplementary mystery of great charm. Campion is mistaken throughout DANCERS IN MOURNING, largely because his wits are addled by his unexpected passion for the wife of his chief suspect. THE FASHION IN SHROUDS examines the tensions in two glittering career women, one of them Campion's sister.
THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG is the other 'thirties novel, the shortest in the canon, and a first-person narrative by Campion. It is one of the author's perfect books, deft and vivacious, at once gay and sinister.
Four novels appeared during the war, one, DANCE OF THE YEARS, a mainstream 'saga' novel. In BLACK PLUMES an enigmatic Scottish policeman investigates a murder at a smart West End gallery. Though Campion does not appear, both action and ambience are characteristic of his pre-war cases. TRAITOR'S PURSE is very much a war-time book, a vivid thriller based on an enemy plan to pervert the British currency. Campion is amnesiac almost to the end. His odd courtship of Amanda, by way of SWEET DANGER and THE FASHION IN SHROUDS, culminates here in their resolution to marry in good earnest.
CORONER'S PIDGIN is set in a London devastated by war, among a typical Allingham smart set, bloody from the conflict, but essentially unbowed. It has a notably brilliant opening and, in its different way, an equally brilliant ending.
The seven post-war books are remarkably varied. Miss Allingham broke new ground repeatedly and tackled increasingly significant themes: good and evil in THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE, love and justice in HIDE MY EYES, and appearance and reality in THE CHINA GOVERNESS. MORE WORK FOR THE UNDERTAKER is one of her triumphs, perhaps the richest of all her confections. It is the people who make it memorable: the undertaker, the landlady, the char, and the eccentric literary family at the heart of the shenanigans. The book is also notable for the first appearance of Charlie Luke, the dynamic young policeman whose pile-driver personality so enriches the later sequence.
THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE appeared in 1952 and made a considerable impact. Sadly, in some ways, since much of it is uncharacteristic, it is still widely regarded as the best of the novels. It is undeniably brilliant: subtle and sophisticated, yet with the primitive force of a mediaeval morality. The two men at the core of the action are drawn with immense bravura and total conviction, the one wholly evil, the other wholly good. The fogbound atmosphere of the book is a powerful contributory force, and the street-band that rackets through the narrative is a further sinister presence.
THE BECKONING LADY is a retreat from the harsh truths of THE TIGER, a sunlit idyll in SWEET DANGER territory. The prevailing tone is comic, and Charlie Luke is brought low by love and rustication. The author's fiscal problems provided the motive venom for the murder of a tyrannical tax-collector. The action of HIDE MY EYES takes us through the last day in the career of a criminal, a cold and calculating killer, whom events combine to destroy. The book is a tour-de-force of concentrated excitement, and the theme of judgment blinded by love is nobly achieved.
THE CHINA GOVERNESS is perhaps the most interesting of the later novels, a complex examination of illusion and truth in human affairs, defined through a young man's search for his true heredity. The narrative is most artfully composed, with a depth and density that reward intensive analysis.
THE MIND READERS is the last completed novel in the canon, a curious performance, with few admirers. To addicts, it has many endearing features, but a certain naivete is undoubtedby apparent; and extrasensory perception is not the most appealing of themes, however confidently handled.
Miss Allingham died before CARGO OF EAGLES was completed, but her husband, Youngman Carter, brought it to an impressive conclusion. The action centres on a treasure-hunt and is both spirited and picturesque. Campion's performance is at once showy and deeply satisfying, a bravura close to a brilliant and varied career. He came a very long way in forty years.
Of the sixty-two stories, thirty-one are known to feature Campion, including eleven that remain uncollected. The seven story collections overlap considerably, but the four British volumes include all the items collected to date. The earlier Campion stories were written for 'The Strand Magazine' and generally show him rescuing a society damsel in distress. They are expertly contrived and supremely elegant. The non-series stories include supernatural and inverted items, confidence tricks and a wide range of mysteries.
There are also four novellas, published in two post-war volumes: DEADLY DUO (or TAKE TWO AT BEDTIME) and NO LOVE LOST. These are more conventional than the rest of the canon, more romantic in theme and tone. The last of the four, 'Safer than Love', is enlivened by the enigmatic presence of Superintendent Fred South, a sinister-jocular policeman who recurs in THE BECKONING LADY.
It has recently been established that Margery Allingham also wrote three crime novels under the pseudonym Maxwell March. These are conventional 'thirties thrillers in a more lurid mode, with melodramatic action contrived by scheming villains who will stop at nothing, The author's professionalism ensures that they are very good of their kind, but, despite a few Allingham echoes, they inhabit a world essentially different from the main body of work. OTHER MAN'S DANGER and ROGUES' HOLIDAY were published as Collins Mysteries, and THE SHADOW IN THE HOUSE was a Crime Club volume.