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Suddenly Albert! A Murder Monday Story

Ok, I know I said I was going to give Margery Allingham a rest, but these books are so small that it's a terrible temptation. Anyway, before I knew it I was reading Dancers in Mourning and GUESS WHAT



It has a great opening, like most of Allingham's books (a boring man writes his memoirs, they get turned into a musical), but instead of dropping off in the next chapter and getting all vague and tedious, it gets weirder and funnier and knottier and more uncomfortable. And vague! And tedious! But. . . in a good way!

"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."

Well, that's Campion in a nutshell, isn't it? He doesn't get that much solider, but does become interestingly and pointedly indistinct. And there are real characters! Lugg teaches a small child how to pick a lock! There is even a VERY awkward, alarming, and potentially dangerous brush with Gratuitous Detective Romance, my favorite! Campion becomes infatuated with the wife of the musical comedy star, to the detriment of his better judgment (if he ever had any better judgment, which is unclear)!

GDR seems to be a magic bullet of characterization. It's not the only thing working in Dancers in Mourning -- the writing is just miles better than it has been -- but it helps. Probably it doesn't even have to be romance; it could be any strong compulsion to do something irrational and unhelpful, or any compelling reason to try harder not to be facetious all the time. Anyway, it works beautifully, even if I can't exactly root for what's her name to run off with this vague-faced rando. Campion is never completely likable (in contrast to Lugg, who is even more of a delight than usual), but he is genuinely and believably uncertain, which is good enough. He doesn't seem to know what he's about or why he got mixed up in crime in the first place, an inevitable and sympathetic consequence of starting out life as a parody. For the first time, his vagueness reads like a human weakness instead of a writing weakness.

The murder plot is complex, there are some reasonably functional dark secrets among the survivor-suspects, and the noticeable improvements in the writing and Campion's character development made me irrationally happy. Welcome to the world, you weird human cumulus cloud! Welcome to the poorly-delineated mystery we call life!

Also reading:

Final Curtain, by Ngaio Marsh! This book begins with Agatha Troy and shows no sign of developing into anything but a full-scale Troyfest, which is welcome news after the Troy drought we've been suffering. She's been invited to paint an actor's portrait on an unreasonable timeline, and accepted out of a combination of curiosity and pragmatism. This leads to Troy being welcomed into a hideous Victorian Stately Home by a large family of Marsh actors, who are like regular actors only more so. Faced with this churning sea of theatricality, the untheatrical Troy tries to be sympathetic, but isn't very good at it. It's a perfect recipe for deliciousness, even if Alleyn never shows up. He'll probably swing by after the murder, but who knows when that might be?

(Oh, and Nigel Bathgate! helpfully provides an introduction to the actor's family. It's not really necessary, since we're going to meet them all in a few pages anyway, but it's always nice to see Nigel turning up and trying to help. He wants so badly to be part of the family of detection <3).

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards is a non-fiction book about some of the members of the Detection Club during the 1920s and 30s -- their lives, their true-crime inspirations, their relationships with each other, their projects together and apart. It's extremely enjoyable so far and, importantly for a book about mystery authors, tries to strike a reasonable balance between literary discussion and spoiler infestation (Edwards doesn't assume that everyone reading it has read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for example). I was tempted to skip some of the biographical sections, such as the chapter on Anthony Berkeley, for fear they would give me too many preconceptions about books I haven't read but want to, but then I gave up and read it anyway; my memory's probably not good enough for it to be a problem.

Since this Murder Monday has a Gratuitous Detective Romance theme, I'll note that I was delighted to learn that Dorothy L. Sayers seems to have been opposed to Gratuitous Detective Romance on principle for several years before becoming its leading practitioner. (She also could not tell the difference between different kinds of red wine in real life).

My edition is a first edition, very large and beautifully designed, but unfortunately it is full of typos. There are stray punctuation marks, small redundancies, and truncated sentences scattered throughout -- not enough to cause any real difficulty, but enough to be noticeable. Hopefully someone will do a quick read-through before it comes out in paperback.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
Oct. 12th, 2015 08:12 pm (UTC)
Hooray, your persistence finally paid off! An Allingham book that you like!
evelyn_b
Oct. 13th, 2015 02:41 am (UTC)
Yay! I kept feeling that I liked Allingham in theory; I'm glad to be able to like her in practice.

Probably it was only a matter of time -- reading chronologically, you can definitely see the writing getting a little better with each book, even if the plots seem to go back and forth between "fun" and "nonsensical." And Lugg has been enjoyable from the start.
scripsi
Oct. 13th, 2015 06:18 pm (UTC)
I'm glad Campion seems to improve. I have yet to start, but my hisband is chugging along, saying they are lightweight and not as good as Sayers, but keeps picking up the next volume. :)

I didn't know that about Sayers- how funny. :)
evelyn_b
Oct. 14th, 2015 12:25 am (UTC)
I'm glad he's enjoying them! Where is he up to now? This one was really fun and just a little fraught. My hope for the series is that there will be a new gratuitous romance in every book, each one more ill-advised and detrimental to the investigation than the last. But we can't always get what we want (I assume).


I didn't know that about Sayers- how funny. :)


It's so great! Every time she chides R. Austin Freeman or whoever for excessive "love interest," I have to laugh. Dramatic irony!
scripsi
Oct. 14th, 2015 04:44 pm (UTC)
I'm glad he's enjoying them! Where is he up to now?

Last time I asked it was The Case of the Late Pig. :) But according to the TV series there is more romance to come... :)

It's so great! Every time she chides R. Austin Freeman or whoever for excessive "love interest," I have to laugh. Dramatic irony!

LOL!
lost_spook
Oct. 15th, 2015 04:28 pm (UTC)
Ha, well, I did say I remembered Dancers in Mourning being one of the ones I liked, but since my fave was Sweet danger, that clearly wasn't much of a promise! Oh, well, hurrah!

And, aha, I shall go on over to the next post, but yes, indeed, Final Curtain is a Troy-fest. :-)
evelyn_b
Oct. 15th, 2015 10:30 pm (UTC)
*waves invisible flag*

Well, Sweet Danger had Amanda, who is still tied with Lugg for Allingham's best character imo, and the setting in general was kind of interesting, plus probably something else that I'm forgetting. This one doesn't have Amanda, but it brings back Uncle William Faraday from Police at the Funeral. He didn't leave much of an impression on me back then, but is funny and likeable here.

And Allingham's writing has improved so steadily from book to book -- watching that happen is interesting in its own right.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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