Reviewed by Harriet Devine
I think I was about eleven when my mother, responding to my cry that I had nothing to read, gave me a copy of Margery Allingham’s Sweet Danger. That was it, really – I was Allingham’s devoted fan for life. Of course over the many years since then I have read all her novels, some of them several times. So I had mixed feelings when I heard that Mike Ripley had completed a manuscript started, not by Allingham herself but by her husband, Philip Youngman Carter. Although Carter apparently contributed to some of his wife’s novels, we still seemed to be getting a long way from the original work of one of the queens of golden age crime.
But I needn’t have worried. Mike Ripley has a distinguished career of his own, and, as a lover of Allingham himself, was obviously determined to do her justice. So here, after many lean years, we finally get to meet again with Albert Campion, that deceptively effete amateur detective, his feisty wife Amanda, his friend Superintendant Charlie Luke and of course the great Magersfontein Lugg, the principal characters from Allingham’s novels.
Set in 1969, the year Carter started the manuscript, this novel finds Campion on a visit to Lindsay Carfax, a small Suffolk village where his niece Eliza Jane is staying, and eking out a slim living painting faux-Constable pictures for the tourist trade. But Eliza Jane is just an excuse for his visit. He’s actually doing a bit of quiet investigation for his friend Charlie Luke, who is worried about the unexplained deaths of two students who were visiting the area on an archaeological dig. The village seems idyllic, but there are dark forces at work. The real power behind the village is not in the hands of the police or the parish council. Instead, there’s a secret syndicate, the Carders, who make their own rules, and mete out severe punishments to those who disobey them. It’s known that there are nine of them, but exactly who they are is anybody’s guess. However, Campion seems to have offended somebody, as first of all his precious Jaguar is badly damaged and then he ends up in hospital, having been shot in the leg while on a pheasant-shooting expedition.
There’s so much to enjoy here. Lindsay Carfax is a joy in itself, with its secret passages joining the pub, the vicarage and the museum to Carders Hall – a hand-drawn map is included for those in doubt as to how this works. Then there is a crowd of delightful secondary characters. You can’t help but admire Mrs Thornton, who makes use of the secret passages to carry out her multiple jobs as museum attendant, keeper of the cottage that once belonged to a well-known Victorian lady novelist, and school dinner lady. Then there’s Campion’s distant relative, Lady Prunella Redcar, who lives in Monte Carlo and visits the casino every morning to place a few small bets, muttering mysteriously as she does so ‘Come on Bones, old Bones, share the luck’. Lady Prunella is looked after by the terrifyingly impassive Frau Berger, who hides her eyes behind dark sunglasses at all time and evidently knows more than she is prepared to divulge. We meet these last two on an expedition to Monte Carlo undertaken at Campion’s request by his son Rupert and his new wife Perdita, both aspiring actors, who have a lot of fun pretending to be all sorts of people they really are not. Add to all that the 1960s setting, with all the fun that provides, and of course the thrill of the actual mystery Campion is setting out to solve, and you have a truly enjoyable read.
And, if you’re wondering if this is just one for fans of Allingham, the answer is certainly not. Of course knowing the existing characters adds icing to the cake, but really this novel will please anyone who enjoys a bit of period detection, with a good dash of humour thrown in. Go for it – you won’t regret it.
Harriet Devine is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.
Mike Ripley, Mr Campion’s Farewell (Severn House: Sutton, 2014). 9781847515087, 278pp., paperback.
Mike Ripley is interviewed by Harriet in our BookBuzz section.