From the very first, this book gripped me. Margery Allingham discloses a mystery right from page two when Meg and her fiance are presented with a dilemma. Meg’s first husband, Major Elginbrodde, thought to have died during the war, has suddenly resurfaced, just days before Meg’s wedding.
Thankfully Meg has resources available to her, and she immediately turns over the case to Detective Albert Campion. But even with the aid of Campion and the expertise of the local police force, Meg is going to take some very foolish (naive?) actions on her own initiative.
“Amanda saw her dark figure silhouetted against its pallid square of light for an instant. Then she was gone.
The other girl remained where she was, listening. She heard the faint whine of the drawing-room-door hings, and a single step on the wood. Then there was a long silence, followed by a movement in the bedroom immediately below her. The intruder must have come up the stairs without her hearing a sound. She stifled her breath and was aware of the noise of her own heart, and this irritated her. The British burglar is not as a rule the bravest of men, and she knew that should he discover her as his torch beam wheeled across the unfurnished room, the chances were that he would be far more startled than she. But despite all reason she was trembling.”
A hidden treasure, a cottage in France, a clever kidnapping, a bewildered-always-one-step-behind police force, and the London fog all work together in this incredibly fast-paced, suspenseful novel.
The author cleverly uses the weather (that London fog!) to add atmosphere to the story:
“This morning the fog was thicker than ever. Twenty-four hours of city vapours had given it body and bouquet, and its chill was spiteful.”
“If the fog had only cleared, tempers might have cooled, but now, at the end of the second day, it had become the father of fogs, thicker and dirtier and more exasperating than any in living memory. The only people who were not astounded by it were visiting Americans, who innocently supposed the capital to know no other weather and took its inconvenience in their good-natured stride.”
There are so many approaches one could take to review this multi-faceted novel. The author weaves together several themes but the one that seemed most prominent as I read this book was the age-old (as long as time itself!) dilemma of good and evil. Could Jack Havoc be at all redeemable? Canon Avril thinks he can, and his own instrically good nature compels him also to (foolish too?) action.
When one reads “The Tiger in the Smoke”, it is not only the atmospheric tension that draws the reader in. The author effectually reveals the motivations of the human heart and the variety of personality within a net of coincidence that cleverly reveals the culmination of the story.
“Normally he was the happiest of men. He asked so little of life that its frugal bounty amazed and delighted him. The older he grew and the poorer he became, the calmer and more contented appeared his fine gentle face. He was an impossible person in many ways, with an approach to life which was clearsighted yet slightly off centre, and therefore disconcerting to most of his colleagues. No one feared him, simple people loved and protected him as if he were daft, and he had exasperated more great churchmen than any other parson alive.”
Margery Allingham has been designated as one of the four queens of crime (can you guess the other three? Sayers, Marsh and Christie are all Golden-Age favorites). Let me just say that, if you haven’t picked up Margery Allingham yet, give her a try. After enjoying Allingham’s expertise, my only dilemma now is deciding what to pick up next. (Perhaps another Allingham mystery will fit the bill!)