Today’s read is the 2nd Allingham novel, which was bestowed upon me by a friend and since I actually enjoyed the other one much more than I thought I would, I decided to dive into this one and see how it went…
It seems almost like fate when Inspector Oates, the man trailing him, Campion and the client he is waiting for, a Miss Joyce Blount, fiancée to an old friend, all converge upon one place. Before we find out Blount’s dilemma we initially have the peculiar incident of Oates’ follower making a hurried exit, proceeding Blount’s near faint at the sight of him. Whilst we find out no more about that for the present we do hear about Blount’s problem, namely the disappearance of one of her uncles, Andrew Seeley, a highly unpleasant character and sponger. This soon turns into a case of murder when his body is found in the river, (bound hand and foot and shot in the head), near their home in Cambridge and it quickly becomes apparent that the killer is one of Blount’s fellow inmates. Blount lives with her great aunt, Caroline Faraday, as well as with her two aunts and her two uncles, all of whom are financially dependent upon Caroline despite being middle aged and older. Theirs is an odd household, its furnishing stuck in an earlier time period and it is described in the book as, ‘a hot-bed, a breeding ground of those dark offshoots of the civilised mind which the scientists tell us are the natural outcome of repressions and inhibitions. To them the old house was undergoing an upheaval, a volcano of long fermented trouble, and they were afraid of what they were about to find out.’ Further crime and death ensues leaving the household in dread of which among them has cracked and begun a spree of violence and more importantly which of them will be next!
On the whole I think I got on well with this story. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the household of suspects, though I’d definitely not want to live with them. The matriarch, Caroline, was especially enjoyable. She is a sharp and intelligent woman, being described in a similar manner to Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley, (albeit it in a minor way), here: ‘bird-like inquiring glance.’ The only black mark the book gives against her is her weakness for wearing hideous pieces of lace. Given the later plot developments, the opening, where Campion fools around with Holmes stereotypes and phrases, is very fitting. It was also interesting to see how Campion perceives his role. He doesn’t see himself as a private detective or even a sleuth, but instead refers to himself as a professional or deputy adventurer or as ‘the handy man about the trouble.’
The pacing was good initially but the final third definitely needed shortening, as for example there is a completely superfluous chapter about the inquest, which is not required at all. I did go into this story knowing the solution, (having watched the Peter Davidson series), so I was probably less wowed by it. However for those of you going in with no prior knowledge I think you’ll enjoy it a lot as it is quite fiendishly and madly clever. At this year’s Bodies from the Library conference, Tony Medawar (I think) mentioned this book as having a solution Christie did not do herself, though I think fans of the genre will know of an earlier predecessor. Returning to the issue of pacing the ending could have been tightened once the solution has been revealed. It is also marred to an extent by an unfortunate of the time’s attitude shall we say. This seems odd and a pity, considering that Allingham earlier on in the story pokes fun at and ridicules the ‘yellow peril’ phenomena by using the phrase in a joke about a yellow chair, which has not been sat on since Caroline’s husband has died, that is until of course Inspector Oates sits on it. A frosty interview ensues…
So overall I would say my two recent tries by Allingham have been a lot stronger than I was expecting, so I may well try some of her others at a later point.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Policeman