The Case of the Late Pig (1937) by Margery Allingham

I will admit I’ve never been Allingham’s biggest fan. I was underwhelmed by the likes of Flowers for the Judge (1936), More Work for the Under Taker (1948), Death of a Ghost (1934), The Mind Readers (1965), Traitor’s Purse (1941) and The China Governess (1963). Though I did enjoy Mr Campion and Others (1939), as well as The Tiger in the Smoke (1952). However after being given a couple of Allingham’s by a friend I decided to revisit Allingham’s work to see if I like it any better now.

This story, like some others in the series, is narrated by Albert Campion himself. The tale opens with a socially comic scene of Lugg reading out the death notices in the newspaper, in particular one about R. I. Peters (pun intended I guess). This name rings a bell for Campion who knew the deceased as a school bully. Yet the funeral is far from satisfying and instead has a gravely unsettling feeling upon Campion. 6 months later he is called back down to the area by the local Chief Constable, Colonel Leo Pursuivant, who is also Campion’s friend. For his own reasons he is very anxious about a newly discovered murder and Campion is stunned when he sees the victim – recognising his old school nemesis Peters, who seems to have been going around under a different name, Oswald Harris. Yet he has only been dead for 12 hours. So what was the funeral all about 6 months earlier? Leo is concerned about the murder due to where it took place, a local country house, which is now being run as a loosely governed business and it seems like Harris had been making himself pretty unpopular with the local inhabitants, including Leo, with his plans for redeveloping the area. Further befuddlement ensues with disappearing corpses, new corpses, cryptic anonymous letters, unhelpful school acquaintances and even personal jeopardy for Campion and Lugg.

Overall Thoughts

I quite surprised myself, in that I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The logistics of the murder are out of the ordinary and I would have said this book has a very good puzzle, but I don’t feel Allingham gives enough info to the reader to unravel the whole mystery themselves, though other readers may think contrary to this. After all she is very fair about one particular aspect of the murder method.

This is quite a short book by Allingham. It would be more accurate to call it a novella than a novel, clocking in at 115 pages in my edition. Yet I think I enjoy Allingham more in a shorter format and the pace was faster as a consequence, though I think some readers will find the ending a bit too fast due to the rushed thriller/action sequence. Drama and tension is well-maintained though and the chapters invariably close with some form of dramatic information, making it feel like a story which could have been serialised.

Although a short tale I think there are clever elements to it. In particular I noted how even in the 1930s Allingham was modernising and updating the country house mystery model. Her country house is not owned by a titled family, but is owned by a larger than life retired London actress who takes in paying guests and runs a bar. Country houses as business ventures are not something I feel we really see much of in mystery fiction until post WW2, so perhaps Allingham was a little ahead of the times? I also think she is plays around with character genre conventions and overall the story has a Bertie Wooster feel. This comes through especially strongly in Campion who soon becomes a put upon Wooster character type, forever being asked to do favours for people and being wrongly misunderstood as a consequence. The TV adaptation of this story, (which I saw quite a few years), delivers this aspect of the story very well indeed.

Can’t say I am fully comfortable with narrative style, the dialogue and narrative voice did sometimes jar with me, such as with lines like this: ‘these words are in the nature of a prophecy. The puff paste has a sausage inside it, after all.’ Equally Campion can drift into cliché at times: ‘I am fairly certain that I was pretty nearly brilliant in it in spite of the fact that I so nearly got myself and old Lugg killed that I hear a harp quintet whenever I consider it,’ and in this particular instance we can also hear a parodic echo of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey in my opinion. However, it was quite interesting to see in a later fatality in the book, an echo to and a variation of one of Ethel Lina White’s short stories. Readers familiar with Allingham’s book will probably be able to guess which White story I am referring to.

Perhaps my rating is shade generous but it was nice to unexpectedly enjoy the book and it was mostly an entertaining read, with more than one trick up its sleeve.

Rating: 4.25/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Bottle of Poison

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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13 Responses to The Case of the Late Pig (1937) by Margery Allingham

  1. rkottery says:

    Allingham is best when she doesn’t get too convoluted, like here. The Mind Readers I recall as being ridiculously hard to read.
    And I can definitely see what you mean about the Lord Peter parodying (those two had a lot in common, but Sayers is just a better writer).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark Ricard says:

    Interesting review. Almost considering buying this. Will check it out. Never read White. Not surprised there are echos of Wimsey since Campion himself was inspired to some degree by that character.Also read the last books written in the 1960s mostly the work of her husband. Is that true?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cargo of Eagles was the first book her husband got involved with, as he finished it off. The books after this one were all written by him up until the 1980s, though I think he used notes from Allingham for Mr Campion’s Farthing. After that in 2014 Mike Ripley finished off a novel Allingham’s husband started and then went on to write others himself. Definitely a long history of continuation novels.
      Not sure White would be your sort of author, as she is more about thrills and suspense than intricate puzzles.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lucy Fisher says:

    Lord Peter drew on the Bertie Wooster stock character type (which was well known on the stage). I’m pretty sure Wodehouse did it first. Sayers’ Whose Body was 1923, Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley 1929. Jeeves and Wooster appeared in the late teens. Christie certainly thought up some interesting uses for redundant country houses – but after the war, as you say. (Sayers the better writer? Hmm!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Book of the Month: October 2017 | crossexaminingcrime

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