Margery Allingham: Contribution as English Novelist

Also Read

      Margery Louise Allingham (1904-1996) British writer of thrillers and detective stories, notable for charm as well as for excitement. Like many of her coevals - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh - Allingham was at times a little in love with her hero, Albert Campion, but, far more than Sayers, she allowed him to change and grow as her work proceeded, not least because she needed him to be more complex and damaged. She herself had a conventional education and married young.

      Campion appears in the majority of her books, as a comparatively conventional matinee-idol sleuth in The Crime at Black Dudley (1929) and rather more interestingly in her novels of the late 1930s, such as Dancers in Mourning (1937) and The Fashion in Shrouds (1938). These last two are interesting not only for their detailed depiction of small closed worlds disrupted by murder, but in their sense of the extent to which the disruption is not merely the sudden violent deaths but the breach of that trust on which daily life in small communities of colleagues is based.

      World War II produced a sequence of spy thrillers - Traitor's Purse (1942) stands out - which have, at their best, a paranoid quality; a sense of urgency and menace. The latter stage of her career produced fluent but forgettable psychological thrillers in which Campion's urbanity was that of the physician as much as the sleuth. Closely linked to these in theme, yet entirely different in its effect, is The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) which bursts the usual format wide open by setting Campion in ineffectual opposition to a charismatic psychopath in a wrecked post-war London of bombsites and dark shadows. It is Allingham's most remarkable book and one in which she chooses - as she rarely does - to stretch the limits of her chosen form. She was at her most assured when being witty; of the more comic Campion books, the best is perhaps the last, More Work for the Undertaker (1948), where her usually snobbish portrayal of comic cockneys acquires an elegiac tone. A class she had patronized had surprised her by their courage and sacrifices, and the jokes acquire an edge, not least at her own expense.

Previous Post Next Post