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.