THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG (1937) by Margery Allingham

Allingham-Late-Pig-PenguinThis is Margery Allingham’s shortest Albert Campion novel (my Penguin TV tie-in edition, featured on the right, runs to 138 pages) but it certainly packs in plenty of incident with the sleuth battling problems on the domestic and romantic front while also trying to solve a murder or three. It first appeared as a paperback in the Spring of 1937, more or less simultaneously with a darker and much longer  Campion hardback, Dancers in Mourning. For his eighth (or ninth, depending on how you count) reported case, our amateur detective (and reputed member of the Royal family) opts, for the first and only time, to narrate his own adventure, which takes place in one of those far away fairytale East Anglia villages so beloved by Allingham.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2013 Vintage Mystery Challenge in the ‘Dangerous Beasts’ category; the 2013 Book to Movie Challenge at the Doing Dewey blog (for links to other participants’ reviews, click here); and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her Pattinase blog – you should head to these great sites right away to check out some of the other selections offered this week.

“The main thing to remember in autobiography, I have always thought, is not to let any damned modesty creep in to spoil the story”

So begins Campion’s narration, which as Allingham scholar Barry Pike has pointed out (in Campion’s Career, 1987), has more than a touch of PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster about it. Indeed, this light-hearted black comedy of murder and misappropriated bodies harks back to the breezy style of early Campions like  Mystery Mile and Sweet Danger, though it also includes a very solid whodunit. The story begins with Albert breakfasting in bed while Lugg reads him the obituary notices in The Times – thus he learns of the death of Roland Isidore ‘Pig’ Peters, the red-headed and distinctly porcine school bully who made his young life hell. Things are not be quite as straightforward as they Allingham-Late-Pig-9781934609149might seem though as Albert also receives a curiously worded anonymous letter referring to the death of ‘Pig’ while making incomprehensible references to moles. Suitably intrigued, Campion heads off to the tiny hamlet of Tethering and the at sparsely attended funeral meets Kingston, the bored local doctor who looked after Peters in his dying days, and old school chum Gilbert Whippet, who also received an anonymous letter with its obscure references to moles. Five months later and Albert is asked by Sir Leo Pursuivant, via his daughter Janet, to pop down immediately to Kepesake, another village very near where Peters was buried, to look into a tricky matter involving a dead body.

“Janet smouldered at me across the hearthrug”

Albert is less worried about the body and more concerned about the reception he will receive from Janet, who had a crush on him which he unceremoniously if unintentionally squelched. And indeed she proves to alternately cool and hot in a series of amusing if often farcical romantic misunderstandings. But back to the body … A man named Oswald Harris had managed to obtain, by devious means, the mortgage on the hotel run by beloved ex-actress Poppy Burridge as well and ownership of the surrounding plots of land. he was now planning to foreclose so that he could build a race track and cinema and thus ruin the sleepy tranquility of the citizens. He thus became the most disliked man in town – on top of which he proved to be a thoroughly disagreeable bully, so that virtually everyone wished him ill. Earlier that day, while sitting in the sun in the hotel gardens, he was killed by a flower-pot shoved from the hotel roof and all Poppy’s ‘regulars’ are suspects, including Leo in fact (though he doesn’t realise it, despite being the Chief Constable). But all the regulars give each other alibis, which only seems to leave the vaguely sinister (and scruffy) stranger who goes by the name of ‘Hayhoe’ who has been seen hanging about with Harris though not around the fateful hour. And what is the ever-elusive Whippet doing back in town? Things then really get complicated when Campion gets a look at the body – and discovers that it is in fact ‘Pig’ Peters! How can the man have died again – and why was he masquerading at Harris? Things get really tangled when the body is later stolen from the makeshift mortuary only to turn up again in a dyke …

“Lost the perishin’ corpse now?”

The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham, Penguin 276, 1956 editionThis is a book with a fast-moving plot and populated with a cast of amiable eccentrics, all drawn with enviable economy. Albert gets caught up in a series of farcical romantic shenanigans with Janet, who professes to be over her infatuation but clearly isn’t ans now becomes the object of the affection of the progressive but dull Bathwick, the local vicar, who starts acting very suspiciously indeed and who resents Campion, seeing him as his romantic adversary in the hunt for Janet’s affections. Then there is Effie, Peters’ fiancée, who suddenly arrives with Whippet and makes an enormous nuisance of herself by pretending to be Campion;s friend and then insisting, late at night, to see the body. This really irritates Campion and in addition manages to make Janet jealous. On top of this there is a second and rather ghoulish murder, in which the victim is tied up in a field in the place of a scarecrow – and then, to cap it all, Lugg suddenly and inexplicably gives his notice and leaves! Lugg’s apparent resignation from service and Campion panic when he can’t find him anywhere gives a real urgency to the story and gives the action climax an extra bit of emotional punch as all is revealed.

“A life that needs a murder to make it interesting must, I thought, be very slow indeed”

Adaptations for BBC radio and TV
This novel has been adapted twice for radio and twice for television by the BBC:

  • Richard Hurndall and Hamlyn Benson played Campion and Lugg respectively in a 90-minute radio production broadcast on what was then the BBC Home Service (later renamed BBC Radio 4) on 11 September 1965,
  • James Snell and Cyril Shaps took on the roles for a new adaptation of the same length for Radio 4, broadcast on 9 January 1982.
  • The first version for the small screen was a one-hour reduction shown on 28 July 1968 for the popular anthology series Detective (1964-69) in which Campion was played by Brian Smith and Lugg by George Sewell. Although it is said to exist in the archives I have yet to see it sadly.
  • The 1989 version is much easier to get hold of. It was adapted as part of the BBC’s series Campion (1989-90) in two one-hour episodes, one of eight novels adapted for the show also as two-parters, with generally excellent results.
Peter-Davison-Campion

Peter Davison in ‘Campion’ (image: BBC)

Davison makes for a really engaging Campion, able to channel both his facetious and more serious sides with ease and charm to spare and he plays wonderfully opposite Brian Glover, who is perfectly (type)cast as the cockney manservant (and loyal friend) Lugg. The adaptation by Jill Hyem is very faithful, and indeed most of the (few) additions are mainly there to break from the shackles of the book’s first person perspective and so provide welcome excuses for Glover to get more to do while separated from Campion. Without getting into spoilers, this does also create and amusing anomaly. Right at the beginning the TV version makes an odd addition by emphasising that the man identified as Oswald Harris is wearing a toupee – this only makes sense at the climax when the attempt is made to pass off Lugg (or rather the bald-pated Brian Glover) as Harris – to make this work in the final scenes Glover suddenly has slightly longer hair at the sides then he does in the rest of the series. Moray Watson was a genius at playing amiable duffers of the old school and so is perfect as Sir Leo while comic actor John Fortune is very well cast as peachy-keen medic Kingston. Even better is Michael Gough, who brings just the right mixture of rascally charm and seediness to his portrayal of ‘Hayhoe’. Shot entirely on film on location, this production also showcases the BBC’s well-known expertise with period dramas in terms of design and costumes too – highly recommended!

Both parts of the serial are available to view online from the BBC:

Part One

Part Two

Case of the Late Pig / Campion (1989)
Director: Robert Chetwyn
Producer: Ken Riddington
Screenplay: Jill Hyem
Cinematography: Nigel Walters
Art Direction: Ken Ledsham
Music: Nigel Hess (theme tune sung by Peter Davison)
Cast: Peter Davison, Brian Glover, Moray Watson, Amanda Elwes, Michael Gough, John Fortune, Dilys Laye, Claire Williamson

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2013 Book to Movie Challenge, 2013 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Albert Campion, East Anglia, Friday's Forgotten Book, Margery Allingham, Scene of the crime. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG (1937) by Margery Allingham

  1. Sergio – I’m glad you enjoyed this. I honestly have to say I prefer the slightly more serious Campion to the almost madcap Campion of the earliest novels (or perhaps that’s just my perception). And I do love the fact that Allingham can tell a good story well within 200 pages. That’s not an easy thing to do and I always admire authors who can use prose that well. An excellent review as ever and a welcome reminder (for which thanks) that I must re-read some of these novels.

    • Thanks Margot – I’m doing a general post on Allingham soon but without wishing to pre-empt that, I agree with you that while her broad range of styles is one of her most distinctive features and assets, it is her later, darker, works that probably will endure the longest.

  2. TracyK says:

    At last, you have reviewed a novel I have read, if many years ago. And would not mind reading again. I had forgotten it was so short. I have the more recent TV adaptation on my Netflix queue. A very nice review, Sergio.

  3. Colin says:

    Last time you featured Allingham, I mentioned how little of her work I’d read. Well that’s still about the same. However, this book sounds appealing, not least due to the length. Just as I’ve grown to appreciate movies with snappy running times, so have I come to value books that tell their tale briefly. Lately, I despair at the thought of wading through a weighty doorstop, especially when I know that there are more streamlined efforts like this out there.

    • I certainly agree about length – it does seem tht a modern thriller has to be utterly bloated today so that people can feel they are getting their money’s worth, which is just plain wrong (though doubtless true from a marlketing standpoint). This book is particularly light and breezy and the TV version captures that splendidly – but then I’ve always thought that peter davison was a seriously underrated actor anyway.

      • Colin says:

        Bloated is exactly the word. I have a very hard time with a lot of current mysteries simply because they have a tendency to try to weave in a plethora of sub-plots that often add little to the story and actually just distract the reader from the main point.
        I’m going to take a chance on this book though – your review, and the book’s brevity – have given me an appetite.

  4. westwoodrich says:

    I’m with Margot on preferring the more serious Campions, but I find I actually remember the TV version of this one better than the others. Are you working your way through all the books?

    • Thanks Rich – I think i saw the TV series before reading any of the books so I suspect it may have coloured my perception a little bit. I’m dipping in and out of the books at present, partly because I’m preparing a longer post on the TV show in fact. Watch this space …

  5. Jeff Flugel says:

    Great post, Sergio! I absolutely adore Allingham and the Campion series. I too find the more serious books more memorable but also highly enjoy her early breezy thrillers. This one straddles those two types most pleasingly, although having Campion narrate takes some getting used to. Glad to see you highlight the 80s BBC series again…it is a very charming show, Davison and Glover are perfectly cast as the leads, and the period atmosphere is excellent. I think I’ve mentioned this before on your site, but I’ll risk repeating myself to say once more, what a damn shame the show didn’t get at least another season. I would have liked to see them tackle a few more of the key novels, including THE FASHION IN SHROUDS, TRAITOR’S PURSE, MORE WORK FOR THE UNDERTAKER and THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE. An additional 2 series would have been best, just to round out the canon (I don’t really count the novels finished by her husband).

    • Thanks very much Jeff – and I’m completely with you on this as it would have been wonderful to have the lovely Lysette Anthony back as Amanda – clearly that was the BBC’s initial plan and it’s a real shame they couldn’t continue. It was a very expensive show (£1m per episode) and just didn’t do as well as Poirot, Miss Marple etc. I’m posting on the whole show soon …
      SWEET DANGER

  6. John says:

    Confession #352: I have never read a Margery Allingham mystery. I know — I’m supposed to be a Golden Age maven. I’m hanging my head in shame for being a villain and poseur. Please don’t throw any rotten fruit. Irony #76: I own about seven of her books in various hardcover editions. A very handsome one of FLOWERS FOR THE JUDGE with a DJ, BTW. But no copy of …LATE PIG. Time for me to get crackin’ and catch up with the rest of you.

  7. Richard says:

    Fine review, Sergio. I have read about a third to a half of the Campion books, and enjoyed them all in different ways. For some reason TRAITOR’S PURSE remains one of my favorites. This one I have not gotten to yet, but will, one of these days.

    • Thanks Richard – the variety of approaches and tones int eh novels certainly kept the series fresh – I like Traitor’s Purse a lot too and it was part of that great unbroken run of superior mysteries including The Fashion in Shrounds, Coroner’s Pidgin, More Work for the Unertaker and my favourite, The Tiger in the Smoke.

  8. Margery Allingham and I have a complicated relationship. I liked THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE, but most of the other Allinghams (other than MORE WORK FOR THE UNDERTAKER) have left me cold.

    • Well, I definitely agree with you George that Tiger is probably her masterpiece and she was certainly a writer of many moods! Pig is definitely on the frivolous side, but on re-reading it still found it to be well-plotted and great fun. Compared with most of her contemporaries I think her stuff tends to stand up very well indeed, though it does depend which ones you pick up, let’s put it that way!

  9. Patti Abbott says:

    I have been surprised at how rarely she is mentioned here. This may be only the first or second time. She wasn’t first tier but she certainly was second. Campion was a little too remote I think.

    • Thanks Patti – I am certainly a great fan but I think you may be right about the perception of Campion as too thin. He got more substantial as the series wore on, though – as in Tiger in the Smoke - he was also occasionally prone, like so many Golden Age protagonists from the pre-war era who survived into the nuclear age, to become occasionally a bit absent in his own cases, rather like Christie introducing Poirot very late in some books.

  10. Skywatcher says:

    Very fond of this book. It is a shame that she never repeated this experiment, as Campion’s first person narrative is rather fun. I suspect that one of the reasons that people here find themselves enjoying some books and not others is that she tended not to repeat herself. I love a lot of her books, but there are others that I have been unable to finish (THE BECKONING LADY has defeated me several times.)

    Does DETECTIVE exist in the archives? I know that the SHERLOCK HOLMES episode with Douglas Wilmer does, but I thought that the rest had gone. It’s especially a pity if so, as they did a version of THE MOVING TOYSHOP with Richard Wordsworth (who appears in LATE PIG as Professor Farrington) as Fen.

    I have the Davison show on DVD. Glover’s Lugg did usually get more ‘screen time’ than he did in the books, which was all to the good. He had a terrific screen chemistry with Davison.

    • Thanks Skywatcher – I know what you mean about her shifts in style. For me the Allingham I have a bit of trouble with is her last completed Campion, The Mind Readers, which has been on my shelf left partially unread for the best part of two decades I think! I’m basing the info about the Detective series on the indispensable Kaleidoscope guide

  11. Mike says:

    I look forward to your promised general post on Alllingham. As others here have noted, she’s tough writer on which to gain a critical grip, largely because she spanned such a wide gamut of styles—from aristocratic farce to gritty urban realism. I’ve read only a small sampling of her novels, and I wasn’t much impressed by them, but I read them when I was a less mature reader, and it’s probably that I’d view her work differently now. I did read “Late Pig,” and while I recall absolutely nothing of the plot that you so ably recount in your piece, I remember liking its clever plot and (yes) its admirable economy. “Tiger in the Smoke” held no appeal for me. It struck me as being merely a Julian Symons–worthy, eat-your-spinach, no-puzzle-for-you postwar “crime story.” But, as I say, I might have a wholly new perspective on it now.

    • Thanks for the kind words Mike. Mind you, as I’m a bit of a follower of Symons though (the Fedora choice of URL attests was no accident) I would argue that such a reading of Tiger would be no bad thing though I actually think it is a superb variation on a Stevensonian treasure hunt, beautifully painted in dark hues. I think we could all benefit from re-reading that one!

      • Mike says:

        With respect to “Bloody Murder”—touché. I hadn’t made that connection, and I actually don’t dislike Symons as a critic (although I do easily form a chip-on-my-shoulder reaction to his rejection of the interwar puzzle-mystery sub-genre). “Stevensonian treasure hunt”? I don’t recall that aspect of “Tiger” at all. Clearly, I’m on shaky ground in saying anything about the book!

        • Would be great to know what you make of it if you do have another crack at this book Mike – a lot of Allingham’s earliest books (Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Sweet Danger) involve hidden treasure but there is a really dark and pungent ‘Baghdad on the Thames’ feel to Tiger that I find very impressive.

  12. Skywatcher says:

    Mike: I would second Cavershamragu about going back and re-reading TIGER. I’m as much of a fairly-clued-puzzle-story as you, but this really is something special. I read it without any real expectations one way or another, and found that I had to finish it in one go. Forget about whether it’s a whodunnit or a thriller and just read it on its own terms. I think that you might really enjoy it.

    • Thanks for that Skywatcher, you really put that well. It’s a really special, one-of-a-kind mystery and Jack Havoc an unforgettable character.

    • Mike says:

      I’m quite sure that you (and Sergio) are right about that. I read “Tiger” at a time when I viewed the mystery genre through a very narrow lens and read books within that genre with very specific expectations. Another (much different, of course) example of a novel that I read back then and didn’t much like is “Red Harvest.” I just didn’t see what the fuss was about. Then I reread that book last year, and now I do see.

      • I know what you’re getting at Mike – one of the many things that pleases me about getting older is, as banal as that might be, that I seem to broadening my views in many respects whereas I expected them to be narrowing – maybe I was so uptight in my teens that in my forties I was bound to loosen up a bit …

  13. Ela says:

    I’m very fond of Allingham’s Campion books, though when I was a teenager and saw the TV series for the first time I wasn’t entirely impressed by Davison as Campion – he didn’t look much like my conception of the character. Maybe it’s time to revisit! I agree that TIGER IN THE SMOKE is probably her best novel, but I’m very fond of THE FASHION IN SHROUDS and TRAITOR’S PURSE, in particular. There’s nearly always something entertaining about her books, particularly the characterisation, and the eccentrics which populate them.

    • Thansk Ela – and I agree, there is definitely a distinctive tang to Allingham’s work. I was always a fan of the TV series and of Davison in particular but not everyone agrees – it is a hard role to play given the various changes in moods in the books.

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