TALES ON THE OFF-BEAT by Youngman Carter

Carter-offbeatPhilip ‘Pip’ Youngman Carter was an illustrator, writer and also the husband of famed queen of crime, Margery Allingham. After her death he completed the Campion novel she had started, Cargo of Eagles (1968), and then went on to write two further volumes in the series on his own: Mr Campion’s Farthing (1969) and Mr Campion’s Falcon, (1970).

This new collection, edited by Mike Ripley, brings together 25 of Carter’s short stories for the first time.

I submit this review for  Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge.

“Collecting villains has always been one of my major interests” – from Uneasy Lies (1961)

Carter’s tales are brief, ingenious, humorous, punchy and to the point, with little or no axe to grind. Their primarily aim is to amuse and surprise while keeping the reader a little off-balance, very much in the grand tradition of his contemporaries Roald Dahl, John Collier, Stanley Ellin and Gerald Kersh. These entertainments with ironic stings in the tale involve pill-popping counterfeiters, assorted army types, retired spies, improperly identified painters, paranoid robbers, stuffy academics, love-sick helicopter pilots, escaped jailbirds, reputed alchemists, Ruritarian noblemen, marionette artists and much more besides. Most of them were published in the late 50s and early sixties in the pages of Argosy and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine but some go back to the war years. Ripley has subdivided the stories into three main sections: the first is broadly devoted to crime, the second to the war and the third to matters more peculiar (including one man’s search for the secret to eternal life).

“Well, what about it?” he said at last, and in the tone of a strong man about to filch your last cigarette on a desert island.” – from Dead Ringer (1960)

Often recounted in the form of extended clubland anecdotes in a style reminiscent of Somerset Maugham, Carter himself is often a presence, sometimes by proxy as a journalist, and in on case (the chilling inverted Prisoner of Zenda pastiche, Uneasy Lies) even appearing as himself. Of the initial cluster of crime stories the most popular in its day seems to have been Means of Escape (1959), a story of bacteriological warfare, though my personal favourites are those steeped in the Victorian era, such as Old Soldiers Never Lie (1962), about the chinese whispers surrounding a seemingly impossible jailbreak. My absolute favourite though is probably Peter the Blind (1954), about murder and mayhem surrounding a museum devoted to a reputed Victorian serial killer that stretches into the war years and beyond, which is very rich in atmosphere and plot (it reminded me of the best of John Dickson Carr) and is also the longest and most substantial item in the collection.

“She looked as if her entire career had been devoted to the straightening of hassocks in a rather cold church.” – from Humble’s Box (1959)

The section devoted to stories about the army includes a wistful snapshot of young lads in both world wars that I liked especially (Mr Healy’s Day, from 1944), while the concluding portion, that deals with zombies, doppelgänger and alchemists sees the author stretching himself slightly but not really having to depart from the wry drollery that characterises all his stories. Though there are a few links to the novels published by Allingham, including Look to the Lady (1931), Traitor’s Purse (1941)  and Carter’s own Mr Campion’s Farewell (completed seamlessly by Mike Ripley last year), Carter proves to have an energetic and humorous style all his own. This makes for a varied and satisfying collection, which also has the benefit of an enthusiastic introduction by Barry Pike (author of the first book devoted to Margery Allingham’s fiction, Campion’s Career, a signed copy of which I proudly have on my shelves) and Ripley’s useful notes on the stories and their original publication.

This review was submitted as part of Bev’s 2015 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘short story collection’ category:


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

This entry was posted in Albert Campion, Margery Allingham, Mike Ripley, Ostara Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to TALES ON THE OFF-BEAT by Youngman Carter

  1. pastoffences says:

    I’m around half-way through, and agree there are some great stories here. Ostara has done well publishing this collection.

  2. Colin says:

    I’m always partial to short story collections and these are unfamiliar to me. Thanks for highlighting the volume.

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’ve not read Carter’s short stories before. Thanks for sharing this, Sergio! Some of these do sound like very good reads.

  4. realthog says:

    I hadn’t known about Carter’s short-story career. I’ll have to look out for this.

  5. rthepotter says:

    This sounds like an excellent choice when you need a convenient and complete dose of fiction (say, between London and Salisbury.)

  6. tracybham says:

    I had heard about this book of short stories. Thanks for reviewing it. Your post gives me more of an idea of the type of stories he wrote.

  7. This sounds good – the other short story writers you compare him with are very promising for me.

  8. A nice collection of stories, Sergio, plus the author is entirely new to me. Thanks for the review.

  9. Pingback: Philip Youngman Carter: Tales on the Off-Beat | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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