Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Greatest Mystery Writer You've Probably Never Heard Of

by DeAnna Julie Dobson

Practically everyone knows about Agatha Christie, the multi-million-selling mystery writer. If you are a fan of the golden age of crime fiction, you're probably very familiar with her work and the work of Dorothy L. Sayers. Their creations, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey among others, are justly celebrated. But who today remembers there was a third, to my mind equally great, lady who was their mystery-writing contemporary in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, the wonderful Margery Allingham?

Perhaps I'm the only one who missed out, but after years of enjoying Christie and Sayers, I only relatively recently discovered Allingham and her delightful creation, Albert Campion. Campion, of course, is not his real name. His noble (perhaps royal?) relations would have been shocked to have their name bandied about in the newspapers in conjunction with Albert's crime-detecting adventures, so he chose a pseudonym. One, as we come to find out, of many.

In fact, one of his most successful methods of solving cases is to hide who he is, convincing everyone around him that he is inoffensive, bland and unintelligent, hiding his sharp mind and his dogged determination to find the truth. His manservant, Magersfontien Lugg, who was a cat burglar "until he lost his figure," is a Cockney delight and well worth the price of admission all by himself.

Together, Campion and Lugg solve some of the most wonderfully plotted mysteries I've ever read. In my opinion, they surpass some of Christie's and Sayers', and are consistently excellent. And, the icing on the literary cake, eight of the twenty-one Campion novels were made into movies for the BBC. Peter Davison ("All Creatures Great and Small," "Dr. Who" and "The Last Detective") and Brian Glover (specializing, as he liked to say, in playing "bald-headed, rough-looking Yorkshireman") were pitch perfect as Campion and Lugg and, in true BBC fashion, the sets, costumes and supporting actors bring Allingham's books and the 1930s to brilliant life.

I can't recommend this series (the books and the videos) highly enough, though I haven't yet had the chance to read the last seven books (drat those deadlines!). Officially, the first book is The Crime at Black Dudley, but don't judge the series by that one. Campion is only a rather eccentric supporting character in it. He really hits his stride in the second book, Mystery Mile, and just gets better and better from there.

So, if you like an intelligent, authentic period mystery with a plot that meshes like the gears of a fine watch, check out Margery Allingham's Albert Campion. You won't be disappointed.

Have you read any of Allingham's books? Do you ever read a book because you liked the movie or watched a movie because you liked the book? Did the book do justice to the movie or the movie to the book?

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, and Letters in the Attic, a contemporary mystery. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with four spoiled cats.


  1. I recognized the name Campion from BBC land and I appreciate (pronounced with a s sound not a sh sound) great to hear a recommendation for the books and series.

    I will definitely check them out. Thanks DeAnna!

    Have a great day everyone. Barb and Dina and I have one more day of conference.

  2. I'm a huge Agatha Christie fan so will definitely give Margery Allingham a go. Thanks for the recommendation :)

  3. Wonderful post about a lesser known author, DeAnna. You've done well to bring Margery Allingham to our attention. I'm not familiar with her or Campion, but I'll keep a lookout.

    For me, reading a book and then then seeing it on film is like appreciating a fine wine. It's done for the pleasure and not to become inebriated. And I don't have time for both, so I'll pick one or the other. Perhaps if I really didn't like the way a book or film ended, I may chose the next medium to see if it's any different... for example, 2 movies come to mind:
    I loved both Sommersby and Cold Mountain, but hated the way they both ended. Does anyone know if they were based on books and if the books differed from the movie?

    Anita Mae.

  4. I hope you all give Allingham a look. After reading her work, I just don't understand why she's virtually disappeared.

    And, Anita, I'm with you on Sommersby and Cold Mountain. I never read Sommersby, but I watched it. Loved it until the end. NO reason it had to end that way. Spoiled the whole show.

    Cold Mountain was SO beautifully written, but it had the same kind of bad ending. I can deal with a tragedy, but not a senseless one. It didn't have to end that way. The movie was just too nasty, IMHO.

  5. Hey! You're the one who got me started on Campion, aren't you? Tiger in the Smoke, is, I think, the best novel I've ever read. Blew me away. Did the BBC make a movie of that one?

    Lugg is so great, isn't he??

  6. Yes, Robin, I do hold that claim to fame. But aren't you glad? :)

    I'm sorry to say the BBC only got as far as Dancers in Mourning. It's a pity, because Davison and Glover were so very, very perfect as Campion and Lugg. Haven't you seen any of the movies yet? Oh, the shame!

    Yes, Lugg is a wonder and a delight. He's the perfect foil to Campion's upper crust persona and the perfect interface when they need to deal with the criminal underworld.

    And, yes, Tiger in the Smoke was wonderful.

  7. Oooh, DeAnna, I've never read or seen this series. I love Agatha Christie, so I'll definitely need to check these out.

    Sometimes, I don't like to see the movie if I have a favorite book because I'm afraid I'll be disappointed. If I see the movie first, that's okay because then I don't have it built up in my mind. But I think books are almost always better. Maybe I'm a little prejudice that way? ;)

  8. I hope you do, Suzie. I think you'll really enjoy them.

    I think books are so influenced by how the reader imagines them, it's hard for a movie to be better than that. In books, the hero, for example, looks the way I would like him to look. Even if the author has described him a certain way, his look will always tend to be what I find attractive (or, if the descriptions of him are tremendously offputting, I probably won't keep reading).

    But a movie has a visible hero. He looks like whichever actor is portraying him and only like that actor. He probably doesn't look precisely as he's described in the book. And he almost certainly doesn't look the way I picture him, which is different from how you picture him, which is different from how the author pictured him.

    But if I see and like a movie, I love to go back and read the book because then I see the people and the settings in the movie and the book is like added information or deleted scenes. :D

  9. I will say that Edward Petherbridge was the definitive Lord Peter. Harriet Walter was outstanding, too. Those videos took on a life apart from the books.

  10. Totally agree, Robin. They were a perfect Lord Peter and Harriet.

    David Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot.

    And, though there have been several (and Masterpiece seems to keep changing them), for me the REAL Miss Marple is Joan Hickson. She did all twelve of the Miss Marple novels, beautifully, might I add, without any of the more modern, PC takes they seem to be adding these days.

    And, though they were sometimes a little cheesy, James Warwick and Francesca Anis will always be Tommy and Tuppence to me. :)


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