MR CAMPION’S FAREWELL by Mike Ripley

Mr-Campions-Farewell I first got hooked on the world of Margery Allingham and her crime-solving adventurer Albert Campion by proxy, through the scripts written by Alan Plater for the criminally underrated Campion TV series starring Peter Davison. I mention this because what we have in the brand new Mr Campion’s Farewell is another great look at the same character, albeit many decades older, filtered though the eyes of another fine writer, in this case crime author, critic, editor and archaeologist Mike Ripley, easily one of the nicest men I have ever shared a drink with.

It is 1969 and Campion is visiting his niece, who lives in the apparently idyllic Suffolk village of Lindsey Carfax. But there is clearly  something wrong as the power of nine asserts itself …

“A crime scene with a reward of wine,” mused Mr Campion. “Who could resist?”

It’s been a great 9 months for fans of Margery Allingham and her aristocratic sleuth Albert Campion – back in September Ostara republished Mr Campion’s Farthing and Mr Campion’s Falcon, the sequels written by Philip ‘Pip’ Youngman Carter, the artist and journalist who was married to Allingham for almost 40 years. And now Mike Ripley has taken Carter’s brief opening for a projected book left uncompleted at his death and fashioned a brand new novel out of it. The shores of crime fiction are littered with the corpses of failed attempts to recreate the world of crime fiction classic, but I’m glad to say that this one is a rousing success, an amiable adventure involving smuggling, secret passages and secret societies as well as a few murders in the style of Sweet Danger and Traitor’s Purse, all told with an enviably light touch.

“My trouble, Mr Walker, is that I have a compulsion to tie off loose threads wherever I find them and there seem to be awful lot lying around Lindsay Fairfax.”

Albert is the pretty much the sole focus of the first half of the narrative as he investigates  an ‘accident’ involving niece Eliza Jane (she fell down the stairs after a cord was stretched across the top to trip her up), following a tip-off by his old chum Inspector Luke about several problematic deaths stretching from the previous summer, and attributed to LSD,  to ones several decades earlier, which instead were attributed to drink, though the Inspector is unconvinced. Campion’s arrival at the low end of the tourist season causes something of a stir (especially in the heaving bosom of a local antique dealer) as he explores the eccentricities and mysteries of Lindsey Carfax , a village where everything is reputed to always happen in nines and where the power resides in a mysterious group of ancient families (yes, reputedly nine of them), known collectively as the Carders. But after his Jag is smashed to bits by unseen vandals and Albert gets himself shot in the hind quarters and sent headfirst off a cliff and into a quarry, some of the other series characters start to appear. But then this is very much a book in which old glories are revisited and the contrast between old and new is always centre stage.

“He looked for all the world like an undertaker on a tea break between deliveries”

Lugg makes a very welcome (if sadly rather brief) appearance at Albert’s hospital bedside as does the slightly scary Lady Fitton, who keeps reminding her husband that he is getting a bit too old for this sort of thing – which brings in the next generation of Campion adventurers. While Albert recuperates at St Ignatius, his old College at Cambridge (see Allingham’s Police at the Funeral), his son Rupert, with his new bride Perdita, are promptly packed off to Monte Carlo (with a nice nod in the direction of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale) to look into the affairs of a distant relative of Albert’s and one of the oldest of the reputed ‘Carders,’, the very eccentric Lady Prunella Redcar and her fearsome minder. The style is leisurely and the tone basically light and frothy but there is plenty of nourishment underneath as Campion slowly but surely arrives literally, and figuratively, at the bottom of things in the catacombs beneath the village.

This a well-plotted, wryly amusing and completely satisfying adventure deftly combining comedy, mystery, archaeology and folklore with plenty of spot-on late sixties references to fashions and movies (including The Italian Job) – frankly, you’d be a fool not to pick this one up as soon as you can. But don’t just take my word for it, the book has been garnering praise all over the interweb – indeed, you could do little better than reading Rich’s fine review over at his Past Offences blog, along with his many posts on Margery Allingham and his ribald interview with Mike Ripley, while Moira brings her keen sartorial eye to the book at her Clothes in Books blog.. Stuart Aitken wrote on the book here while you can read Duncan Torrens’ witty interview with Ripley over at Shots Magazine and another over at the Crime Thriller Fella blog. There are in fact a great many fine reviews of this book, so you could also have a look at the Book Lover’s Boudoir, Killing Time, Euro Crime and many more – so I hope you’re convinced by now!

“She’s a Victorian Englishwoman – that’s far scarier than a vampire!”

Thanks very much to Mike and the publishers for arranging to send me a review copy of this charming and engrossing valentine to the world of the Campion family – Mike is now hard at work on a follow-up, Mr Campion’s Fox, due out in 2015. Can’t wait to see what he does with it.

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

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28 Responses to MR CAMPION’S FAREWELL by Mike Ripley

  1. Sergio – As you know, I’m a bit of a grumpy purist when it comes to fictional sleuths. I like them written by the original author. But you’re the second person now whom I trust who’s given this novel a very good review. I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it as much as you did, and you may just have nudged me into trying it…

    • I hope you do Margot – and it has the virtue of conitnuing a series and doesn;t pretend to belong somewhere during the original chronology, which I much prefer. Would love to know what you make of it.

  2. TracyK says:

    Sergio, this is definitely on my list to read and I am looking forward to it. Glad you liked it.

  3. Colin says:

    I think I mentioned before that I’ve only ever read Tiger in the Smoke so I’m not up on the author or character. This sounds like a successful continuation of the original series of books though, which is not always the easiest to achieve.

    • I think Mike has done a really good job – and the Allingham books are slightly strange beasts in that they veer quite a lot from thriller to mystery to adventure story and back again – but Campion did age convincingly as the series wore on and one of the charms of this book is how snugly it falls in with that sense of chronological progression. The books are great fun – if you can pick up a few for a good price I;d really reccomend them – and the TV show too, though I know you’re not such a TV buff – looks like the BBC has put a lot of these up online (at least they look legit) – here is the first one, written by Alan Plater:

      • Colin says:

        Thanks. I think I’ll give some of the TV adaptations a go first and see how I feel then.

        • Well in that case, let me just say that the opening story LOOK TO THE LADY, which I linked to above, is one of the adventure type stories, while DEATH OF A GHOST is more of a traditional whodunit.

          • Colin says:

            Cheers.
            Just to drag this slightly off topic – unusual for me I know – and since you are discussing the revival of literary characters. I have the first two Nero Wolfe books penned by Robert Goldsborough awaiting my attention. Did you ever read any of those? I understand they got a bit of a mixed reception.

          • I wasn’t particularly keen – but, I should add, I read them in Italian translation when they first came out. As I understand it he is still writing them and more recent volumes have garnered praise from blogs of repute. Having said that, as there are original Stout books that I have yet to read, I have resisted the temptation to see if my first impressions are still valid.

          • Colin says:

            Yes, I still have a fair number of Stout’s stuff to work through myself. It’s just that I picked up hardcover copies of the first two Goldsborough books in a second hand store for something like 25p apiece when I was back home last summer and thought I might as well nab them and keep them for future reading.

          • Yeah, those are the one I would have read in Italian – but hell, for 25p, I’d have bought them too :)

  4. Great review of a very enjoyable book Sergio, and thanks for the shoutout. This was definitely a case for me where it was others’ positive reviews that made me read it: like Margot, I am often very wary about resuscitation, but in this case it was fair play and great fun. And I’m interested in the TV series, which I have not seen.

    • Thanks Moira – and I really hope you enjoy the TV show as I always loved it and thought Peter Davison was nigh-on perfect casting in the main role. Does look like the whole TV series is available on YouTube in fact.

  5. Richard says:

    You had me with your mention of Traitor’s Purse, one of my favorite Allingham novels. If I didn’t have several of the original Campion books still to read, I’d think about buying this. By the way, I clicked on that first video you put in, and immediately thought “Tristan”. Were I to watch those shows I’d have to get past that.

    • I’m a big fan of Davison but sure, it’s a generational thing – thers will immediately Doctor Who! But he is really good and showing both Campion’s apparent levity on the surface and the seriousness beneath.

  6. Yvette says:

    Now this one I will definitely look for. Though my last reading of Marjory Allingham left me with a bad taste in my mouth, this one sounds like more the thing even if it isn’t actually Allingham but Ripley. I’m not a fan of Lugg, so this sounds like just my cup of tea. Thanks for the intro, Sergio. I’m one who’d never heard of this book before. Or if I did, it didn’t stick.

    • Thanks Yvette. The book has only just been published (in fact the paperback isn;t even out for a few months) – shame on your for dissing Lugg, but he only has one scene all the same! Hope you enjoy it chum.

  7. Jerry House says:

    I’m really looking forward to this one. And, unlike Yvette (who usually has very good taste), I am a big fan of Lugg.

    • Thank Jerry – and I hope you enjoy it. I really liked it a lot (as you could probably tell). But I hope the next one has more Lugg (with apologies to the lovely Yvette)

  8. Richard says:

    Yay Lugg. Yay Bunter For that matter, Yay…………

  9. Like Margot, I’m picky about other people continuing a series from the original author. MR CAMPION’S FAREWELL sounds good and I’ll pick up a copy after reading your fine review.

  10. Santosh Iyer says:

    I am eager to read this book. However, at present, only the costly hard-cover edition is available here. I shall wait for the paperback or ebook edition.

    • Yes, it’s other editions are a little bit further down the line this Summer but in fact I got a paperback for review so they are definitely out soon!

  11. Fascinating stuff about Margery Allingham and her fiction, Sergio, particularly how her work has been kept alive by others. I think this is the best tribute to any author. I have not read any of her books myself but am much wiser now. Many thanks, Sergio.

    • Thanks Prashant – Allingham is one of my favourite detective story writers from the 30s and 40s but she allowed her work to develop as it went on into the 1960s – she is really worth discovering chum.

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