Margery Allingham

“To Albert Campion has fallen the honour of being the first detective to figure in a story which is also, even when judged by the fixed stars of criticism, a distinguished novel.” –

Torquemada, Observer, 10th July 1938

The detective stories of Margery Allingham (1903 – 66) were rightly advertised as being “for the connoisseur of detective fiction”.  Her detective, Albert Campion, is interesting both as a clever sleuth in the Wimsey vein and as a man: the Wodehousian young dilettante of the early thrillers, the tragic lover of Dancers in Mourning, the more successful wooer of Amanda Fitton in The Fashion in Shrouds, the universal uncle of the 1940s and the observant, self-effacing spymaster of the later books.  Her plots are always ingenious and (when proper detective stories such as Police at the Funeral or Coroner’s Pidgin as opposed to the later studies in abnormal psychology such as the gripping Hide My Eyes or the good-natured thrillers of the 1920s) properly difficult to solve – but it is as a novelist, rather than a writer of detective stories, that she excels.  She has the ability to create an unusual setting and to introduce the reader to every facet of its existence so that he feels as much a part of it as the publishers, dancers or modistes whose world it is.  Her characters, too, are recognisable human beings: her indomitable old women have a vitality to them that makes them more than comical stereotypes, her eccentrics (notably the Palinodes in More Work for the Undertaker) have a pathos which lends them credence, and her villains and criminals, whose patois is such a memorable feature of the later books, are more than one-dimensional portraits.  She brought a novelist’s eye to the detective story, using the form to study character and emotions.  In many ways, she is the Galsworthy of the detective story.

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These pages copyright Nicholas Lester Fuller, 2000--2010. Created 3rd December 2004.