of Margery Allingham: Mystery Mile (1930)

Margery Allingham. Mystery Mile (1930)

Some writers we remember almost exclusively for the creation of one particular character, and no genre of the craft is more likely to engender such a writer than detective fiction. One thinks of Doyle’s Holmes, Sayer’s Wimsey and Christie’s Poirot. Margery Allingham’s real achievement, in my view, is Albert Campion. The only slight quibble that I carefully make is that, at times, he bears too much similarity to both Peter Wimsey and Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn. You know the prototype, fellow readers of vintage mystery: the aristocratic and charming sleuth (Oxford educated) who devotes his intelligence at solving difficult problems to the assistance of the British police. Who maintains a line of excellent and humorous dialogue. Who falls in love with a plucky British girl, generally in the course of one or more of his investigations.

Mystery Mile is not my favorite Campion story. Like Dorothy Sayers and the other writers of the now-famous Detection Club, I have little patience for plots that make use of world-dominating masterminds or vast crime organizations to explain the events. This is an excerpt from the initiation ceremony of the Detection Club in 1928: “The President: ‘Do you promise to observe a seemly moderation in the use of Gangs, Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors, Super-Criminals and Lunatics, and utterly and forever to forswear Mysterious Poisons unknown to Science?’ Answer: ‘I do'” (Coomes 110).

However, the descriptions and construction of the clues are well done, and the dialogue is witty and in places, outright funny. It also supplies some interesting insight into Campion in his pre-Amanda days, telling as it does the tale of the one that got away.

Reference: David Coomes. Dorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life (1992)

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