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Changing the Map of Murder Monday

Finished: Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham.

I have literally no idea what to make of Sweet Danger, other than that I am probably missing something. I spent almost the whole book staring blankly at the page, and sometimes muttering to Albert Campion to hurry up and develop a personality. I really want to like him! He's played by the Fifth Doctor! But this book was a locked door to me. I couldn't get into it. It starts out with an enjoyably goofy premise (something about securing ownership of a tiny European state that just happens to have oil reserves and a natural harbor) but instead of following that premise to a suitably madcap conclusion, it just kind of stacks a few more wacky scenarios on top and calls it a day. There is a crime boss and a village mystery and a practitioner of the Dark Arts. If the writing were a little more assured or the characters more vivid, I wouldn't mind that everything isn't jigsaw-perfect, but the writing is sloppy and the only characters worth noticing are M. Lugg and the girl who works the mill. They should haul off together and open their own detective agency.

The biggest laugh was right at the beginning, when Guffy Randall is roped into a spot of detection by a hotel manager, on no other grounds but that he seems pretty amiable and upper-class. Well, what other qualifications are there?



Death of a Ghost is a huge improvement. The setup isn't slapdash and there's a nice pile of artist characters to be interested in, and the central mystery is terrific: a murder victim's work is being systematically stolen, as if someone is trying to stamp him out of existence completely. Campion is still a little fuzzy as a character, but here he has something to do other than run from one caper to the next, so you don't notice as much. It can read a little like weak Ngaio Marsh, but that can't be helped.

OH, AND

There is a sympathetic young woman in the case who was intimately involved with the murder victim and had both motive and opportunity at the time of his death! But Campion is instantly totally convinced that she is 100% innocent, because ??????????

????

If Allingham makes this winsome waif the real killer, I will forgive her everything, past present and future, all at once and forever. CROSS YOUR FINGERS FOR ME; THIS COULD BE THE ONE.

I've been trying to delay judgment on Allingham's writing. Partly I'm just inclined to cut it several big coils of slack just because Edmund Wilson hated it so much. At this stage in the series, though, it's pretty uneven. Sweet Danger was full of unnecessary epithets and redundancies, and the dialogue tags in particular are a mess. There are lots of good bits in the mix, but no consistently strong narrative voice. Instead, there's a good beginning, followed by a wide bog of indifferent action and confusing repitition, followed by a couple of witty turns of phrase or a funny observation, and so on like that until the book ends. She also has a tendency to oversell things -- she doesn't seem to trust the reader to figure out that she is making fun of the people she describes, and wants to make sure we see the stilleto before it goes in. Death of a Ghost has all the same problems to some extent, but they are less noticeable because the plot is more focused and the characters more engaging.

All of the Allingham books I've read so far contain this blurb (about a later book in the series), claiming that "to Albert Campion has fallen the honor of being the first detective to feature in a story which is also by any standard a distinguished novel." I have faith that Allingham will find her feet within the next couple of books, but I'm also sure that statement is hella inaccurate even if you don't think Inspector Bucket counts for some reason.

Also started: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, the first book featuring Detection Puppies Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley. They are the cutest. They're too adorable to function. They've just blundered their downy heads into A Mysterious Affair of Some Kind, and are spending too much money to celebrate, and making arch remarks at each other, and generally being a couple of hopeless post-war dorkbabies who don't know what they've gotten themselves into.

The Mysterious Affair is sillier than expected -- apparently, what we thought was a missing persons case is really a Bolshevik Spy Caper, and Christie's Bolsheviks are less than convincing (they are trying to bring about The Horrors of a General Strike and Ruin England with a Labour Government). But there is an American millionaire character who is always waving a pile of money and/or a gun around, and I love a good American millionaire -- and Tommy and Tuppence are adorable. They are just going around telling all the details of their top secret anti-Bolshevik mission to anyone who will listen, because why not? It never hurts to have friends on a secret mission! And who wouldn't want to be friends with Tommy and Tuppence??



I'm not sure what denoument I was expecting from A Surfeit of Lampreys, but it wasn't the one it got. The one it got was pretty disappointing, though not in the most obvious way. I felt like Surfeit was about 90% an unexpectedly fresh and funny masterpiece in the Marsh style, and 10% pure boilerplate. You could almost pinpoint exactly where the book reaches the mountaintop, casts a nervous glance at the promised land, and gallops abruptly back the way it came.

I picked up the next Ngaio Marsh book, Death and the Dancing Footman, but I immediately put it down again. A Surfeit of Lampreys was so expansively good and so ultimately disappointing that the immediate resumption of the Marsh formula made me feel tired -- even with Agatha Troy on the cast list. I decided to get something different, and hop back on the Marsh train in a week or so. I'm not mad. Surfeit was a delight, one of those unambiguously good novels that happen to have a detective in them, right up until it wasn't.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
therck
Aug. 24th, 2015 02:19 pm (UTC)
I have the impression that Allingham kind groped her way to characterization for Campion. The first book Camion appears in, The Black Dudley, wasn't meant to feature him at all. The main character is someone else entirely, but Campion kind of pops in and out, being both ridiculous and useful, and Allingham felt he'd taken over the book. I don't recall most Allingham very well because I haven't reread any of it in at least fifteen years (and more likely twenty). I don't entirely feel that Campion develops a strong personality, but I do think that the people around him become more and more interesting.
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 03:04 pm (UTC)
The first book Camion appears in, The Black Dudley, wasn't meant to feature him at all. The main character is someone else entirely, but Campion kind of pops in and out, being both ridiculous and useful, and Allingham felt he'd taken over the book.

I know that feeling! Maybe I should double back and read The Black Dudley? We'll see.

I don't entirely feel that Campion develops a strong personality, but I do think that the people around him become more and more interesting.

That would be a perfectly acceptable outcome!

We get reminded a lot that Campion is a persona rather than a person (his family doesn't approve of hobby detection? reasonably enough I guess) so it makes sense for him to be a little flat in his pseudonymous life. Which is simultaneously interesting and irritating.
scripsi
Aug. 24th, 2015 04:21 pm (UTC)
I still haven't started with Allingham, but I know Campion was originally intended to be a spoof of Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey and not meant to be the hero of a string of books. Which I guess can explain it. I have friends who likes Campion more than Wimsey, so I suppose he gets more personality eventuallu.

I Think Tommy and Tuppence are Christie's most likeable heroes (and the only ones who grow older), but sadly there adventures aren't Christie's best plotting.
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 04:52 pm (UTC)
but I know Campion was originally intended to be a spoof of Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey and not meant to be the hero of a string of books.

Oh, that makes sense! The funniest parts of all the books I've read are all digs at the essential ridiculousness/questionable taste of being an aristocratic hobby detective. (It's possible that I just find aristocratic hobby detectives intrinsically funny. I <3 the Wimsey books to a somewhat inadvisable degree).

Campion has the decency to wear glasses on both his eyes, at least. Maybe he will acquire some other points in his favor soon. Right now he seems to be at the stage of occasionally remembering to be a spoof, but mostly forgetting. I guess I just have to keep reading.

Poirot and Miss Marple get older. . . very, very slowly. I don't mind a little bad plotting between friends, as long as I can suspend enough disbelief to get me from one likable character moment to the next. But Christie isn't quite pulling it off here -- well, this is very, very early Christie if I'm not mistaken, and I don't think this kind of spy plot is her strong point at any age. But Tommy and Tuppence are still likable.

Edited at 2015-08-24 04:54 pm (UTC)
scripsi
Aug. 24th, 2015 06:50 pm (UTC)
I really must get started!

I adore Lord Peter and re-read the books constantly, so I'm all with you there!

True, Poirot and Marple do get older very slowly, but T&T are middle aged in N or M and old in the last two. But spy plots aren't Christie's strong suit. N or M is better I think. I like the plot in Posterns of Fate but both that one and By the Pricking of my Thunbs suffers from Christie's old age.
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 08:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, join me! I always like to hear what other people think of books. I might give up and just watch the TV show, but not for a couple of books yet, and I now have several reasons to keep going a little longer.

Agatha Christie's output is kind of overwhelming to me. I go around feeling like I've become familiar, and then something comes along to remind me that I've read maybe 30% of her work at most. At least I won't run out any time soon?
scripsi
Aug. 26th, 2015 12:14 pm (UTC)
I will read Allingham, I promise! :)

I've read all Chritie's books, but most in my teens. I have a good memory of books, though. :) A lot of them isn't very good, though. The 30's, 40's and early 50's are usually worth reading, and the 60's and 70's are usually very bad.
lost_spook
Aug. 24th, 2015 04:28 pm (UTC)
Ha, I think you might well be better off just watching Campion, and then seeing if you want to come back to the books, if they're still striking you that way. I was very up and down with them myself and I only felt everything clicked when I saw the TV version. Which is definitely a criticism, although I actually loved Sweet Danger, because I fell for Amanda straight off, despite some of the worrying aspects of that, but as it's a later one, all the preceding books have a tiresome lack of Amanda. Even if I enjoyed some of them. But, yeah, I think if you're feeling that way, it may be as well? (I recently read a collection of short stories by her, and actually I liked that quite a lot.)

And, ha, well, now you know which part of your other post I was being amused at. Yes, it was the evil foreigners, oh dear. :-/ To be honest, I have never really cared about the detective part of A Surfeit of Lampreys, so I am just glad they were all okay. *cough* (Death and the Dancing Footman is more back to usual, and... I had forgotten Troy was in it? She may not be in it that much. But there is a theatrical party where everyone gets snowed in with murders happening. Tropes ftw! :Lol:)
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 05:24 pm (UTC)
Hah, it serves me right for daring to dream. Evil foreigner fake-out! But the good parts are excellent, and make up most of the book. I'll probably like it even better on re-read, because I'll know what to expect.

I'm going to give Allingham a couple more books and then decide what to do. Death of a Ghost is a huge improvement over the previous two, at least so far. And Amanda is great! Does she turn up again? I have to say, I was a little skeeved by the way the narrator described her -- something about being at "the peak of physical perfection," which is a good way to get me to make a face and close my heart forever, but that's not Amanda's fault, and she really is the most engaging character in the book by a large margin.

Oh, man, I love it when everyone is TRAPPED AT THE MURDER PARTY!! And a bunch of Marsh's theatre people being trapped at a murder party together? I suspect an excellent time will be had by all (meaning me).
lost_spook
Aug. 24th, 2015 07:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, I love it when everyone is TRAPPED AT THE MURDER PARTY!! And a bunch of Marsh's theatre people being trapped at a murder party together? I suspect an excellent time will be had by all (meaning me).

They might be more generally arty types including some theatrical people, but yes. Definitely trapped at the murder party! (Troy is not in it much; I have remembered and that was why I forgot she was. But she will start to get more stuff again in a few books time.)

And Amanda is great! Does she turn up again?

Probably spoilery, but yes. ;-)
lost_spook
Aug. 24th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
I was reading your post and playing with the Unncoventional Courtship Generator and, er, made a customised detectives version. The results are busy being high disturbing at me, why did I do that?

110) The Fallen Greek Bride- Jane Porter
Infamous Peter Wimsey has graced the tabloids as America's Sweetheart for years. Until scandalous family allegations change the headlines overnight to Socialite in Disgrace! His reputation in tatters, and holding onto the last shreds of his pride, Peter seeks his estranged wife's help, knowing that to convince merciless Jane Marple he will have to get down on his knees and beg... At first Peter was merely the Greek's trophy groom, but their explosive passion shocked them both - leaving Peter now with only one weapon left to negotiate with: his body.


176) Highland Rogue, London Miss by Margaret Moore
Lady of Vice
Agatha Troy is arrogant – unapologetically so.
When she’s asked to impersonate one half of a married couple to infiltrate Edinburgh society she relishes the challenge of being ‘married’ to the frustratingly wilful yet handsome Roderick Alleyn.
Lord of Virtue?
Rory makes no bones about his fervent dislike of the dishonoured coquette. She’s the last person on earth he can conceive of marrying – sham or otherwise. But being forced to play husband to the beautiful-as-sin wastrel brings up very real feelings of desire…

331) The Talk of Hollywood - Carole Mortimer
Lights...
From his latest sports car to his latest blonde, gossip surrounds infamous Hollywood actor and director Allen Grant. Unnamed sources are speculating outrageously about an unknown beauty that Allen is determined to get to know...intimately!
Camera...
Except Tuppence Beresford, infuriatingly, is nothing like Allen's usual conquests...To Allen's disgust she demands an equal stake in his project - they'll have to work side by side for months!
Bedroom!
Allen agrees to a professional partnership...knowing that, however hard Tuppence tries to resist, eventually they'll tantalise the tabloids with a scandalous affair - on and off the red carpet!


244) Darian Hunter: Duke of Desire by Carole Mortimer
The Players:
Harriet Vane, Duchess of Wolfingham: legendary coquette and notorious spinster
Agatha Troy, Countess of Carlisle: society's scandalous widow and secret agent of the crown
The Stage:
A notoriously debauched house party
The Scene:
Forced to pose as lovers, Harriet and Troy must work together to stop an assassination plot
The Twist:
As the shocking and oh-so-sensual games play out around them, the romantic ruse becomes all too real. And the tantalizing temptation to indulge their every desire becomes overwhelming…


175) Running for Her Life by Beverly Long
Secrets he didn't see coming almost got Roderick Alleyn killed once. But he's dead certain that whatever pretty Agatha Troy is hiding is behind the frightening incidents threatening her.
Unfortunately, Troy is determined to stay silent and safe without this temporary small-town police chief's help. So to win her trust, Rory must uncover her past, reveal her deepest fears — and face his own wrenching mistakes. Now every false clue and unexpected setback is irresistibly drawing Rory and Troy together. And with nowhere left to run, the only way Rory can protect her against a relentless adversary means risking losing her for good…

Edited at 2015-08-24 04:40 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 05:07 pm (UTC)
lost_spook I AM AT WORK RIGHT NOW AND THE SOUNDS THAT CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH ARE NOT APPROPRIATE TO A RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

Really I should just stop checking LJ at work, because the chances of something making me laugh uncontrollably are always greater than zero

this is a thing of beauty and a joy forever though; you made me my very own Unconventional Courtship generator?? and it is magnificent.

131) The Prince- Tiffany Reisz
One man taught her to love. She left her old life for him. Now Agatha Troy is torn in two. Wanting to fit into this new, innocent relationship, yet relentlessly hungering for her darker self, and Roderick Alleyn, the man she left behind.

One man taught her to obey
While Troy's trying on innocence for size, Rory is stepping ever further into decadence, determined to block out the agony of watching Troy walk away. Will she ever choose to return to their life of glorious, addictive sin? Which man would you crave?

193) The Stranger by Portia da Costa
When a confused and mysterious young woman stumbles into the life of the recently widowed Hercule Poirot, she reignites his sleeping sexuality. But is the beautiful and angelic Jane Marple really a combination of innocent and voluptuary, amnesiac and genius? Hercule's friends become involved in trying to decide whether or not she is to be trusted. As an erotic obsession flowers between Jane and Hercule, and all taboos are obliterated, her true identity no longer seems to matter.

. . . I might read some of these tbh. Poor Rory's attempt to fling himself on the pyre of decadence!! would be comedy gold, if nothing else.

ETA I think Allen Grant, HOLLYWOOD STAR DIRECTOR/Tuppence Beresford is my very favorite.

Edited at 2015-08-24 05:13 pm (UTC)
lost_spook
Aug. 24th, 2015 07:52 pm (UTC)
:lol: Sorry!!

I think Allen Grant, HOLLYWOOD STAR DIRECTOR/Tuppence Beresford is my very favorite.

Mine, too, even though I mostly know him by proxy. He is not a great detective, but he might make a fine eccentric director with worrying ideas about casting. What colour are Tuppence's eyes? Is that why she's not his normal type? Can they overcome such obstacles?

It does seem determined to ship Poirot/Miss Marple, and I'm not sure my brain can handle it!

And I was bored and it's actually easy to add a new set to the generator - if you see the little "customize" button on the left? And then I just typed in all the Golden Age people I could think of. I was going to add Hastings but couldn't remember what his first name was.
evelyn_b
Aug. 24th, 2015 08:03 pm (UTC)
It's Arthur! Arthur Hastings!

Star Director Allen Grant angsting about casting decisions would be the best thing on earth. Oh no, and he's looking at the b&w test footage, all excited about this bright new star he's going to launch into the sky. Then Tuppence walks in, and to his horror, the eyes that looked so soulful and enticing in b&w are in fact. . . lying nympho blue!!!! D: D: D:

HIS WORLD IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

BY A BLUE-EYED BEAUTY

Irrefutable face science PROVES they can never be happy together!

BUT HIS HEART TELLS A DIFFERENT STORY
lost_spook
Aug. 25th, 2015 01:14 pm (UTC)
Okay, same again, now with added Hastings. (If you click the "everybody" button it throws the detectives into the mix with, er, everybody.)

403) THREE DAY NIGHT - TORI PHILLIPS
THE WHITE ROSE OF YORK WAS NO HOTHOUSE FLOWER
Nay, Mistress Harriet Vane was a long-stemmed beauty with a dangerous secret of royal proportions. But for a chance to claim her as his promised bride, Arthur Hastings would fight the hounds of hell... !
Though plots and plans and barking dogs seemed to pursue the Earl of Thornbury wherever he went, Harriet knew she'd found a champion. Mayhap Arthur Hastings was not what people expected, but the gentle knight had become her heart's desire.

430) Rider in the Mist by Caroline Burnes
The Blackthorn Heir
Hercule Poirot had come to Natchez, Mississippi, to claim his unexpected inheritance, the Blackthorn estate. But his arrival stirred up age-old hatreds that wouldn't rest. Anonymous threats and eerie cries wouldn't drive him away. Nor would the warnings of the mysterious and sensual Arthur Hastings, a man who confused him, intrigued him… and reminded him of the ghostly rider he had glimpsed one misty night.
And His Protector
With the headstrong heir's arrival, Hastings knew it was time to resurrect the 'ghost' rider of Blackthorn, whom legend said protected the land and its heirs. He couldn't afford entanglements, but Hercule's innocent passion fired his jaded heart. Something evil stalked Blackthorn… and as the townsfolk cried for blood, Hastings vowed to watch over Hercule in the darkness….

:-)


Anyway, the point is, to Tuppence & Grant: YES YES EXACTLY!!! He was, of course, casting her in her TRAGIC EPIC about the CRUELLY WRONGED BROWN-EYED RICHARD III.

Can love defeat irrefutable face science? Maybe it can't. Maybe the suspicion would always lurk in his heart that one day she would do him wrong, as he predicted. *shakes head*
evelyn_b
Aug. 25th, 2015 03:21 pm (UTC)
Aww, Hastings <3

Love can never defeat irrefutable face science. Somewhere down the line, somehow, eye color will out. But the heart has its science of which face science knows nothing. Even the most scientific face detective might find himself wanting to believe what he knows he can never believe. That's what makes it a tragedy.
lost_spook
Aug. 25th, 2015 04:50 pm (UTC)
:lol:
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