Who is the heir to Averna? Are there any Pontisbrights left to claim this small estate that has suddenly become a much coveted prize property? The dispute over a small parcel of land that an earthquake has revealed to be valuable property will only be settled when proof of the inheritance is found.
“There’s every evidence that on the land behind the castle there’s an untapped oil field.”
Albert Campion, (along with the help of three friends and the irrepressible Lugg), is assigned to the case. The search for a British heir takes him from a hotel in France to a small village in Suffolk, where hidden clues are to be found. Throw in a couple of hired thugs, some highly resident superstitious folk, an eccentric-and-impoverished family living in an old mill, and you have all the ingredients for a fast-paced mystery.
“Our next little problem is the charter. That’s written on parchment which, according to the stationery bills of the time, must have been either one-half or one quarter of a whole sheepskin. It’s written in Latin, of course, bears Henry the Fourth’s seal and his mark. I don’t think the fellow could write. And the third treasure, is, as it should be, the most important of all, and simply consists of Metternich’s receipt for the money in 1814. Heaven knows what that looks like. So, you see, we’re going to have fun.”
The Fittons, eccentric though they be, are also courageous and uninhibited in defending their rights to an inheritance they convinced that belongs to them. Missing is the deed and charter to the inheritance, but it is complicated by the fact that over the years, the property has changed:
“Guffy’s pleasant round face flushed. “It’s rather jolly though, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, I rather like it. Who’s got the Pontisbright manor house now? I ought to know that part of the country well, but I can’t even remember having heard the name before.” Mr. Campion met Farquharson’s eyes and grimaced. “That’s where we come up against another snag,’ he said. “There’s no longer any house at all. When the title lapsed the old Countess, who was the only member of the family left, simply sold up everything, lock, stock and barrel. The entire place was dismantled and sold piece by piece, until nothing but a hole which had contained the foundations was left. It was one of the great acts of vandalism of the Victorian era.”
Pursued by a famous internationally known but unscrupulous financier who greatly desires to uncover the secret clues to the missing charter, Campion and his buddies are racing against time. Savanake (what a name!) is one of the more ‘evil’ villains I have come across in Allinghams’ mysteries, and he pulls out all the stops.
Campion is shanghaid but manages to keep one step ahead of the opposition and thwart the well-laid plans to get him out of the picture — and the reader, along with his three friends, will not be able to guess how he manages to elude his adversary until he re-appears near the ending… but there is worse to come.
“Savanake came towards him. The side-lights fell upon the gleaming barrel of the revolver he levelled. In his left hand he still carried the iron box, as though he had been loath to set it down even for an instant.”
This book was a slow start for me. After the excitement and atmosphere of “Tiger in the Smoke”, I expected something similar. However, it picked up as I went along and I was eager to see who was going to win out in this race for an inheritance. Marjorie Allingham is so very clever in her potting and keeps the reader guessing through the entire book. Dialog is always enjoyable and realistic, and I so enjoy Lugg’s character. He is just priceless!
It took me longer to get involved in the book and I had to use my head a little bit at the beginning to understand the sequence of events. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and even though not my favorite of hers, definitely an enjoyable mystery read.
“Mr. Campion appeared to have been forgotten, and he sat in a little recess in a corner of the hall and looked through the open doorway at the quivering leaves and dancing water without. The old house seemed very quiet after the hullabaloo. It was really amazingly attractive. Like all very old houses it had a certain drowsy elegance that was very soothing and comforting in a madly gyrating world.
He allowed his thoughts to wander idly. He noticed the delicate Gothic carving of the stone fireplace, sniffed appreciatively at the mingled odours of wallflower and baking cookie, and wondered how the rabid busybodies who leap upon ancient monuments and tear them stone from stone that they may grace the dank loneliness of museums could have overlooked such a perfect unspoiled gem.”