Authors: Margery Allingham
When song-and-dance star Jimmy Sutane falls victim to a string of malicious practical jokes, there's only one man who can get to the bottom of the apparent vendetta against the music hall darling â Albert Campion.
Soon, however, the backstage pranks escalate and an ageing starlet is killed.
Under pressure to uncover the culprit, and plagued by his growing feelings for Sutane's wife, Campion finds himself uncomfortably embroiled in an investigation which tests his ingenuity and integrity to the limit â¦
Margery Allingham was born in London in 1904. She attended the Perse School in Cambridge before returning to London to the Regent Street Polytechnic. Her father â author H.J. Allingham â encouraged her to write, and was delighted when her first story was published when she was thirteen in her aunt's magazine,
Mother and Home
Her first novel was published in 1923 when she was nineteen. In 1928 she published her first detective story,
The White Cottage Mystery
, which had been serialised in the
. The following year, in
The Crime at Black Dudley
, she introduced the character who was to become the hallmark of her writing â Albert Campion. Her novels heralded the more sophisticated suspense genre: characterised by her intuitive intelligence, extraordinary energy and accurate observation, they vary from the grave to the openly satirical, whilst never losing sight of the basic rules of the classics detective tale. Famous for her London thrillers, such as
Hide My Eyes
The Tiger in the Smoke
, she has been compared to Dickens in her evocation of the city's shady underworld.
In 1927 she married the artist, journalist and editor Philip Youngman Carter. They divided their time between their Bloomsbury flat and an old house in the village of Tolleshunt D'Arcy in Essex. Margery Allingham died in 1966.
The Crime at Black Dudley
Look to the Lady
Police at the Funeral
Death of a Ghost
Dancers in Mourning
The Case of the Late Pig
The Fashion in Shrouds
Mr Campion and Others
The Casebook of Mr Campion
More Work for the Undertaker
The Tiger in the Smoke
The Beckoning Lady
Hide my Eyes
The China Governess
The Mind Readers
A Cargo of Eagles
This book is for
None of the characters in this book is a portrait of a living person, nor did the events here recorded ever take place
Mr William Faraday sat down to write his memoirs after fifty-eight years of blameless inactivity he found the work of inscribing the history of his life almost as tedious as living it had been and so, possessing a natural invention coupled with a gift for locating the easier path, he began to prevaricate a little upon the second page, working up to downright lying on the sixth and subsequent folios.
The book appeared at eighteen-and-sixpence, with frontispiece, in nineteen thirty-four and would have passed into the limbo of the remainder lists with thousands of its prototypes had not the quality of one of the wilder anecdotes in the chapters dealing with an India the author had never seen earned it a place in the news columns of a Sunday paper.
This paragraph called the memoirs to the attention of a critic who had not permitted his eminence to impair his appreciation of the absurd, and in the review which he afterwards wrote he pointed out that the work was pure fiction, not to say fantasy, and was incidentally one of the funniest books of the decade.
The public agreed with the critic and at the age of sixty-one William Faraday, author of
Memoirs of an Old Buffer
(republished at seven-and-six, seventy-fourth thousand), found himself a literary figure.
He almost succeeded in looking the part as he sat in his box at the Argosy Theatre, his small bright eyes fixed upon the stage where the three hundredth performance of
, the musical show which had been built on some of the bones of his book, was taking place.
Having seen the show some thirty or forty times his view naturally tended towards the critical, but he enjoyed it nevertheless.
The rest of the audience was not so surfeited. It exulted, hugged itself and, in the cheaper parts of the house, became a little hysterical.
Even the consciously intelligent element was happy, enjoying a rare burst of spiritual freedom. A Jimmy SutaneâSlippers Bellew show was a recognised intellectual leveller and provided one of those blessed Alsatias wherein the eyes of the moron and the highbrow meet and wink. There were Sutane fans in stalls and gallery; childlike spirits, hid in most unexpected bosoms, followed his angular ecstatic figure in its graceful yet faintly grotesque interpretation of Mercer's music with all the heartrending pleasure of imprisoned birds observing flight.
It was an occasion, a night to be remembered and recalled with embellishments. A party spirit enveloped the old Argosy and even the florid goddesses above the candelabra in the auditorium seemed to infuse a new enthusiasm into their painted sports.
The various managerial staffs, gay if exhausted, wrestled twice as vigorously as was strictly necessary with the telegrams, the insufferable idiots expecting seats before Christmas, the flowers in ice from Australia and the expensive and importunate Atlantic phone calls.
The programme girls in their fresh uniforms glanced at the stage with new interest even when Sutane was not upon it, while the orchestra, basking in an unfamiliar sense of security, became almost elated in spite of the new number in the second act.
That disturbing emotional experience, the first night, was a thing of the past. That had been a nightmare with a happy awakening. This, the three hundredth performance, had the pleasant quality of reality about it. The âHouse Full' boards appeared to be a permanency outside the doorways in Shaftesbury Avenue and the library order was no longer a matter for prayer.
Mr Faraday leant forward. His small bear's body in its black and white elegance swayed to the foxtrot rhythm of the
hit of the show. The amusing backcloth of grotesque faces which Pavalini had designed hung across the back of the stage, and habituÃ©s in the audience nudged their companions, whispering to them to notice the villainous caricature of the Doremus woman on the croupier's extreme right.
As the light increased the chorus boys appeared in their twenty-, fifty- and hundred-franc plaque costumes. They came trotting on, more and more and more of them, drilled to automaton perfection, bobbing and clattering in carefully contrived disorder until the suggestion of a shower of counters on a
table was complete.
The giant roulette wheel in the middle of the stage began to glow, the music softened, and the applause drowned the cue, as it always did, when the audience saw the familiar figure in the suit of white tails leaning on the silver turn-table. Then came the cue again and the small, charming voice, which knew all there was to know about putting a song over and little enough about singing, pattered neatly through the first chorus.
What's the odds I'm on your number?
It's a thousand â a million to one.
It's a cert. It's a twist.
It's a chance you have missed â
A thousand â a million to one.
The face was a blur to eighty per cent of those in the theatre, a little white speck in a paper storm of subdued colours, but everybody knew the high forehead, the round mournful eyes, the long duck's-bill nose and the mouth which widened so amusingly into a sophisticated smile.
As the chorus was taken up by the others the wheel began to turn and the tap-dance, which had made stage gossip and was likely to make stage history, began for the three-hundredth time. The small white figure with the amazing feet ricochetted and pirouetted round the wooden slats, tapping out its own music with a quality in which mere accuracy merged into the miraculous. Faster, faster and faster! A thousand â a million to one â¦ a thousand â a million to one â¦.
The crisis came in a breathless moment. The audience swayed, satiated and exquisitely at peace. The wheel began to slow down, the beat of the pattering feet became sparse, and the tune slurred agonisingly an octave lower. The chorus took up the song again, the lights turned the wheel into a vast zero, and applause, like the sound of wind passing through a cornfield magnified to terrifying proportions, swept down upon the white figure grinning in its midst.
William Faraday turned to the man who sat beside him.
âIt's a damned shame, Campion,' he murmured, the words rumbling between his lips. âSomething's got to be done, my boy. See that with half an eye. Means so much, you know.'
Mr Campion nodded. The roar from the great pleased animal whose vastness filled the theatre, and of which he was so alarmingly a part, made conversation impossible. He sat leaning back in the shadows, the light from the stage catching his horn-rimmed spectacles and the unexpectedly strong line of his chin.
He was not a handsome man. There was a certain vacuity in his expression which counteracted the pleasant angles of his face and lent his whole appearance an indefinable quality, so that those who knew him were apt to find him hard to recollect and impossible to describe.
At the moment Mr Faraday, who knew him well and had excellent personal reasons for believing in his resource, wondered if he had heard and, if so, had understood him.
âMore trouble here, shouldn't wonder,' he muttered a few minutes later as the curtain rose on the old-time music-hall scene and the music for the extra number inserted into the show in honour of the occasion began its lazy, insinuating measure. âDon't understand why they want more dancing. Theatrical people beyond me â always were. Never liked this gel in the old days. Too damned highbrow by half. Must be an oldish woman by this time.'
He turned in his chair, the shortness of his neck making a rather complete movement necessary.
âNaturally.' Mr Campion seemed startled.
His host grunted. âHere she comes. Could tell you something about her.'
The art of Chloe Pye belonged to an earlier age than the inspired patterings of Jimmy Sutane, and Mr Campion himself wondered why, on her return from a long colonial tour, she should have elected, much less been invited, to attempt a come-back in the midst of such strong competition. He had been a schoolboy when he had first seen her taking up a quarter of the bill at one of the better music-halls, her rather mediocre talent helped out by a personality so feminine that her gentle seductiveness reached out well over the footlights. Her act had always been the same, a series of little dances each telling a story, each delivered in varying period costume, parts of which were discarded as the performance continued. The mild indelicacies involved were invariably excused by the dictates of the tale. Thus a vision of Chloe in Stuart underwear was archly exhibited under the title âNell Gwynne Prepares for Court,' and Victorian petticoats and the pantalette in entirety were displayed with equal timid vulgarity in âMorning, 1832'.