Log in

No account? Create an account

October 2019



Powered by LiveJournal.com

The China Governess & Margery Allingham’s London

Cover of reprint

After reading The White Cottage Mystery, I embarked on a small Allingham re-read. I began with The Fashion in Shrouds, an old favourite set in the upper class, fashionable pre-war world which was then Campion’s natural milieu. I moved on to The China Governess. This was a late addition to my collection and I’d only read it once before, so it was like reading a new book. The plot is very complicated. A young man, Timothy, recently engaged to a beautiful heiress, suddenly discovers that everything he has believed about his birth is wrong. His prospective father-in-law wants to know more before allowing the marriage to take place and most of the book is taken up with finding out the truth.

What struck me on re-reading this was what an isolated little world Margery Allingham created for it. She rarely visited London, preferring to stay at home in the country, yet you believe totally in her imagined little corners of London. This goes for More Work for the Undertaker and The Tiger in the Smoke as well. The China Governess has the usual cast of Albert Campion, Charlie Luke and Lugg but sadly no Amanda, whom Allingham made little use of in her later books. Timothy’s family live in a world of their own; they are a family for whom the very word ‘governess’ is strangely sinister. The book was first published in 1963 but it might as well be 1953. It’s as if the end of the "Chatterley" ban And the Beatles' first LP. had never happened.

Moving on (or back) to Hide my Eyes (1958) we find the same phenomenon of a particular corner of London in which all the action is concentrated. This is a real thriller because the reader knows from the start who the criminal is. He’s obviously a psychopath, so you tremble for everyone he becomes involved with. The question in this book is how long it will take Campion and the police to put together all the pieces of the puzzle which Allingham has laid so carefully before the reader.

Book Club edition

I moved on to The Mind Readers. This is a very late book and Allingham didn’t do modern that well. The London here is the area around Canon Avril’s house (he’s Campion’s uncle) but much of the activity takes place at a grim research station. Two boys seem to have discovered the secret of telepathy, a secret which interests many other people. This means the Secret Service (which Campion now helps out) and various agents. It’s all hopelessly far fetched but the precocious boys are very well done and Amanda is back.

Amanda figures again in The Tiger in the Smoke, which I read next. Many people consider this Allingham's best novel. The psychopathic killer here is much more dangerous than the one in Hide My Eyes, hence the title. Jack Havoc is pure evil. This London is foggy, the weather aiding criminals and hampering investigations. Again, Canon Avril’s house is the centre of the action and the powerful yet unworldly 'old man' (probably in his sixties!) has an important role. The mystery goes back to the war and a secret treasure hidden in France. The sinister street band, the dark alleys, the killer on the run having all the luck and all the time that penetrating London fog make for a wonderfully sustained atmosphere of fear and tension.


I know the premise of the Mind Readers is a bit hard to swallow, but I do love it - the Canon and the house and Amanda and the boys are brilliant, as are some of the scientists.
I'd agree with that, especially about the boys. What you say about the house is just what I was trying to get at.
One of the things she's so good at, I think, are the little worlds of interlocked location and routine and character people construct. And it's always clear how particular to the circumstances they are.
I don't think I've ever read Margery Allingham but your reviews are always so good that they tempt even me who likes hard core blood and gore detective thrillers :)
I'm glad about that! I hate blood and gore myself and prefer character-led mysteries.
You've inspired me to an Allingham re-read too Barbara! I have of course got rid of all of mine, but thank goodness for Kindle! Also just ordered The Photographer's Wife which your fab review had me itching to try! Also am loving the Patricia Wentworth re-issues - I hadn't read any of them so what a delight. I've got Kindle Unlimited on the month's free trial as they're free on that, but think it might be fun to keep it after so I can re-read as I do with the Miss Silvers. I can recommend one I've read on Kindle recently to you - Be Frank With Me -if you haven't read it already - enjoyed it very much.

Edited at 2016-05-21 09:30 am (UTC)
Allingham is wonderful!

I'm always so pleased when people take up my reccomendations; makes reviewing worthwhile.

I'm currently reading another Wentworth: Who Pays the Piper?, which is an Inspector Lamb mystery as recommended by coughingbear. Thanks for the hint about Be Frank With Me.

I'm impressed by how cheap the Dean Street Press reprints are. They seem really nice people there, too.
Will move Who Pays the Piper up to next! Just read Red Stefan which is lots of fun and v good sense of place - is she a Bessie Marchant I wonder or did she actually visit Russia?