I picked up this Margery Allingham book at the library last week and finally got to it. It was a quick read, but not one of my favorites.
The plot was so interesting at first that I found myself caught up in trying to figure out who was trying to kidnap Val Gryth (the main character). How could Albert Campion (our ever -s-o clever- and- with-it detective), be sure that Val would follow the clues left for him and make it to his door? Who was trying to steal the chalice, and would they be successful?
I enjoyed the book all the way up to the final 3 chapters and then for some reason, it kind of petered out for me! Although Allingham ties up all her loose ends neatly and satisfactorily, I just kind of lost my impetus by then. However the story itself was interesting and clever, mixing gypsies, art, superstition, ghostly appearances, and romance within the plot of a chalice coveted and guarded over centuries.
I came across a couple of reviews while pondering Allingham’s writing that were so well-written, I wanted to include them here for your perusal. The first is written by none other than A.S. Byatt, (a successful novelist in her own right), who contrasts Allingham with Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh:
“Three of the Queens of Crime – Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh – also seem to have felt that the form demanded that the detective should be an aristocratic younger son, disdaining a life of leisure in order to use his good mind and fine moral sense.
Marsh’s gentleman joined the police force and became Detective Inspector Alleyn. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey and Allingham’s Albert Campion disguised their brains and their steeliness beneath the veneer of a vacant, elegant man-about-town, descended from Saki’s foppish mischief-makers and not unrelated to Bertie Wooster.
I have never been able to read Agatha Christie – the pleasure is purely in the puzzle, and the reader is toyed with by someone who didn’t decide herself who the killer was until the end of the writing. Sayers, Marsh and Allingham crossed the puzzle fiction with the romantic novel, and give us elegantly plotted love stories mixed in with the threads of death and detection.
Of these three, I love Allingham most, because she wrote best and is most surprising and satisfactory as a tale-teller. She has things in common with Georgette Heyer in her mix of pace and lightness. She has invented her own world, and we recognise with pleasure that we are in it.”
(Does this not want to make you read *all* of Allingham?)
I have enjoyed many of Allingham’s mysteries but haven’t yet read them all. It is intriguing to find that others feel she is a better mystery novelist than Christie or Sayers!
Take a look at what this reviewer, Jane Stevenson, had to say:
“Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh are fundamentally focused on “how”. Their characterisation is crude, a bundle of quirks and characteristic utterances – Poirot’s “little grey cells” – while the actual writing is un- demanding. Once the puzzle has been solved, there is no point in looking at the book again: if you accidentally pick up a Christie you’ve read before, you put it down again as soon as you realise it’s the one where the murderer turns out to be the butler’s identical twin brother. Gladys Mitchell’s books you are sometimes, but not inevitably, pleased to revisit. She turned out more than 60 potboilers and an occasional perverse masterpiece (The Rising of the Moon is my personal favourite).
By contrast, all Allingham novels (except perhaps the first two) will, like those of Dorothy Sayers, stand a good deal of rereading.”
Fall is a great time to read mysteries, and the ‘cosy mystery’ genre is one of my favorites. I plan to do some re-discovering of Margery Allingham!