Authors: Margery Allingham
First, there is a skeleton in a dinner jacket. Then a corpse in a golden aeroplane. After another body, Albert Campion nearly makes a fourth . . .
Both the skeleton and the corpse have died with suspicious convenience for Georgia Wells, a monstrous but charming actress with a raffish entourage. Georgia's best friend just happens to be Valentine, a top couturiÃ¨re and Campion's sister. In order to protect Valentine, Campion must unravel a story of blackmail and ruthless murder.
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 she contributed to her aunt's cinematic magazine,
The Picture Show,
at the age of eight.
Her first novel was published when she was seventeen. 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 classic 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
Flowers for the Judge
The Case of the Late Pig
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
â. . . there reigned throughout their whole world a special sort of snobbism and a conscious striving for effect which were the very parents of Fashion.'
PROBABLY THE MOST
exasperating thing about the Fashion is its elusiveness. Even the word has a dozen definitions, and when it is pinned down and qualified, as âthe Fashion in woman's dress', it becomes ridiculous and stilted and is gone again.
To catch at its skirts it is safest to say that it is a kind of miracle, a familiar phenomenon. Why it is that a garment which is honestly attractive in, say, 1910 should be honestly ridiculous a few years later and honestly charming again a few years later still is one of those things which are not satisfactorily to be explained and are therefore jolly and exciting and an addition to the perennial interest of life.
When the last Roland Papendeik died, after receiving a knighthood for a royal wedding dress â having thus scaled the heights of his ambition as a great
â the ancient firm declined and might well have faded into one of the amusing legends Fashion leaves behind her had it not been for a certain phoenix quality possessed by Lady Papendeik.
At the moment when descent became apparent and dissolution likely Lady Papendeik discovered Val, and from the day that the Valentine cape in Lincoln-green face-cloth flickered across the salon and won the hearts of twenty-five professional buyers and subsequently five hundred private purchasers Val climbed steadily, and behind her rose up the firm of Papendeik again like a great silk tent.
At the moment she was standing in a fitting-room whither she had dragged a visitor who had come on private business of his own and was surveying herself in a wall-wide mirror with earnest criticism.
Like most of those people whose personality has to be consciously expressed in the things they create, she was a little more of a person, a little more clear in outline than is usual. She had no suggestion of over-emphasis, but she was
a sharp, vivid entity, and when one first saw her the immediate thing one realized was that it had not happened before.
As she stood before the mirror considering her burgundy-red suit from every angle she looked about twenty-three, which was not the fact. Her slenderness was slenderness personified and her yellow hair, folding softly into the nape of her neck at the back and combed into a ridiculous roll in front, could have belonged to no one else and would have suited no other face.
It occurred to her visitor, who was regarding her with the detached affection of a relation, that she was dressed up to look like a female, and he said so affably.
She turned and grinned at him, her unexpectedly warm grey eyes, which saved her whole appearance from affectation, dancing at him happily.
âI am,' she said. âI am, my darling. I'm female as a cartload of monkeys.'
âOr a kettle of fish, of course,' observed Mr Albert Campion, unfolding his long thin legs and rising from an inadequate gilt chair to look in the mirror also. âDo you like my new suit?'
âVery good indeed.' Her approval was professional. âJamieson and Fellowes? I thought so. They're so mercifully uninspired. Inspiration in men's clothes is stomach-turning. People ought to be shot for it.'
Campion raised his eyebrows at her. She had a charming voice which was high and clear and so unlike his own in tone and colour that it gave him a sense of acquisition whenever he heard it.
âToo extreme,' he said. âI like your garment, but let's forget it now.'
âDo you? I was wondering if it wasn't a bit “intelligent”.'
He looked interested.
âI wanted to talk to you before these people come. Aren't we lunching alone?'
Val swung slowly round in only partially amused surprise. For a moment she looked her full age, which was thirty, and there was character and intelligence in her face.
âYou're too clever altogether, aren't you?' she said. âGo away. You take me out of my stride.'
âWho is he? It's not to be a lovely surprise, I trust?' Campion put an arm round her shoulders and they stood for a moment admiring themselves with the bland un-self-consciousness of the nursery. âIf I didn't look so half-witted we should be very much alike,' he remarked presently. âThere's a distinct resemblance. Thank God we took after Mother and not the other side. Red hair would sink either of us, even father's celebrated variety. Poor old Herbert used to look like nothing on earth.'
He paused and considered her dispassionately in the mirror, while it occurred to him suddenly that the relationship between brother and sister was the one association of the sexes that was intrinsically personal.
âIf one resents one's sister or even loathes the sight of her,' he remarked presently, âit's for familiar faults or virtues which one either has or hasn't got oneself and one likes the little beast for the same rather personal reasons. I think you're better than I am in one or two ways, but I'm always glad to note that you have sufficient feminine weaknesses to make you thoroughly inferior on the whole. This is a serious, valuable thought, by the way. See what I mean?'
âYes,' she said with an irritating lack of appreciation, âbut I don't think it's very new. What feminine weaknesses have I got?'
He beamed at her. In spite of her astonishing success she could always be relied upon to make him feel comfortingly superior.
âWho's coming to lunch?'
âAlan Dell â Alandel aeroplanes.'
âReally? That's unexpected. I've heard of him, of course, but we've never met. Nice fellow?'
She did not answer immediately and he glanced at her sharply.
âI don't know,' she said at last and met his eyes. âI think so, very.'
Campion grimaced. âValentine the valiant.'
She was suddenly hurt and colour came into her face.
âNo, darling, not necessarily,' she objected a little too vehemently. âOnly twice shy, you know; only twice, not for ever.'
There was dignity in the protest. It brought him down to earth and reminded him effectively that she was, after all, a distinguished and important woman with every right to her own private life. He changed the conversation, feeling, as he sometimes did, that she was older than he was, for all her femininity.
âCan I smoke in this clothes-press without sacrilege?' he inquired. âI came up here once to a reception when I was very young. The Perownes had it then as their town house. That was in the days before the street went down and a Perowne could live in Park Lane. I don't remember much about it except that there were golden cream-horns bursting with fruit all around the cornice. You've transformed the place. Does Tante Marthe like the change of address?'
âLady Papendeik finds herself enchanted,' said Val cheerfully, her mind still on her clothes. âShe thinks it a pity trade should have come so near the Park, but she's consoling herself by concentrating on “our mission to glorify the Essential Goddess.” This is a temple, my boy, not a shop. When it's not a temple it's that damned draughty hole of Maude Perowne's. But on the whole it's just exactly what she always wanted. It has the grand manner, the authentic Papa Papendeik touch. Did you see her little black pages downstairs?'
âThe objects in the turbans? Are they recent?'
âAlmost temporary,' said Val, turning from the mirror and slipping her arm through his. âLet's go up and wait. We're lunching on the roof.'
As he came through the wide doorway from a hushed and breathless world whose self-conscious good taste was almost overpowering to the upper, or workshop, part of the Papendeik establishment, Mr Campion felt a gratifying return to reality. A narrow uncarpeted corridor, still bearing traces of the Perowne era in wallpaper and paint, was lit by half a dozen open doorways through which came a variety of sounds, from the chiming of cups to the hiss of the pressing iron, while, above all, there predominated the strident, sibilant chatter of female voices, which is perhaps the most unpleasant noise in the world.
An elderly woman in a shabby navy-blue dress came bustling along towards them, a black pincushion bumping
ridiculously on her hip-bone as she walked. She did not stop but smiled and passed them, radiating a solid obstinacy as definite as the clatter of her old-lady shoes on the boards. Behind her trotted a man in a costume in which Campion recognized at once Val's conception of the term âinspired'. He was breathless and angry and yet managed to look pathetic, with doggy brown eyes and the cares of the world on his compact little shoulders.