Continuing on author’s detective series after they are dead has been quite a contentious topic in recent times in crime fiction circles with Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel (second one to be released next year), causing a lot of heated and emotive debates and opinions. But today this post is looking at a different detective, Albert Campion. According to the introduction Philip Youngman Carter, husband of Margery Allingham worked with her during her lifetime on the plots of her novels and this novel in fact was based on Allingham’s original ideas, ideas she did not live long enough to see through, having died in 1966. So I suppose I am in many ways assessing this novel in two ways, both judging the novel on its own merits and also examining how good a job Carter did at continuing on the series.
The novel starts with mystery, as a non-descript man is planning to effect an entry into Inglewood Towers, which was built by an eccentric called Sir Edwin in the late 19th century. A tense scene is paused to describe this aesthetically tacky property, which is now run as a Victorian weekend experience by Edwin’s great niece, Lottie Cambric:
‘In this theatrical lighting the black shape suggested a toy fort built for a giant’s child or a Bavarian castle lifted from its mountain top by Disney for the entertainment of Londoners in the green belt which surrounds the city with half-urbanised grassland.’
The tension is briefly resumed when the trespasser attempts to commit arson in the cellar but ends up being knocked out by an unknown person. The staff at Inglewood Towers often have acting experience, as they have to immerse themselves into their Victorian roles, though it seems the staff earn more by the “extras” they can provide guests than their actual wages. Two key members of the staff are Perdita Louise Browning, a guide and server at the place and Rupert, who is known as Burbage, because that is what butlers have always been called at Inglewood.
Campion is brought into the story after a doctored Inglewood Towers brochure followed by scored tracing paper reveal a melodramatic message suggesting that Lottie is in great danger. A retired secret service chief, Cockran is questioned, eliciting that Inglewood is used by “The Department” for arranging meetings off the record. It also comes out that Vassily Kopeck, a Russian spy has vanished, yet he has not defected to Britain. In conjunction with this in the background it seems on the other side of the Iron Curtain a series of people have been committing suicide in numbers which make it suspicious. Inglewood Towers is involved as it was at one of their parties that he disappeared and Cockran is keen for Lottie to not get involved and reveal what she knows and Campion himself is advised against being a ‘knight errantry’.
The mission to find Kopeck is shared by many different parties in the story, all of whom seem to have somebody working on the inside, including Campion. Some interested parties take a much more direct approach interrogating Lottie and her staff, searching Inglewood for Kopeck, including the tomb in the garden (which I felt was rather underused) and even resorting to kidnapping. A takeover bid for Inglewood Towers also muddies the waters as the company Denmark Holdings applies its own forms of pressure upon Lottie and her property. In a typical thriller of the 60s scientific secrets become a pertinent part of the plot with Campion even briefly visiting a research facility. A partial tape recording suggests that Kopeck was on to something big, increasing the pressure on Campion to find him before anyone else. But the pressure is also on for the other interested parties, parties who will not stop anything, which seems the case when corpses start appearing. Will Lottie reveal what she knows, before it is too late to save Kopeck and herself and even her business, which has been rapidly dwindling through the investigation? I would like to say this novel ends with a bang or even ends with a modicum of drama and tension, but to be honest it ends rather flat, though this does rather fit in with the rest of the novel…
As thriller it fails to make the grade. Pockets of tension quickly sink under the weight of the heavy and slow paragraphs of description which depict everything and anything in a lot of detail, telling the reader the back story of every spoon and room. Even events which should be tense and dramatic such as a car chase and a final confrontation are incredibly undramatic, making the back of a tin of beans seem like a surprising read. Campion as presented by Carter does fit to an extent with his appearances in Allingham’s original works:
‘Very large horn-rimmed spectacles gave him a distant inoffensive air, that of a man who might be thinking deeply of a chess problem or alternately considering the possibility of going to sleep. It was deliberate deception, well understood by his friends but sometimes unfortunate for those less amiably disposed.’
Although that might be because he spends a lot of novel in the shadows, meaning any glaring error could be avoided. The settings are reasonably good though they are not up to Allingham’s standard. Moreover, Allingham’s settings such as the Tiger in the Smoke (1952) do not slow down the plot, and unlike Carter’s add atmosphere and tension. In a way Mr Campion’s Farthing (1969) (even the title is rather poor) is a poor man’s Tiger in the Smoke and is a weak outing for Campion.
I don’t think I will be reading any of Carter’s other continuation novels as this novel was not a gripping read and did not continue the Campion series with the skills and techniques that made the series a good one in the first place.
Rating: 2/ 5