Skip to main content

Book 33: Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham

Published in 1931, Police at the Funeral is the fourth of the Albert Campion detective novels by Margery Allingham.

As I haven't read the previous novels and it has been along time since I read the only other Campion novel I have read, I don't feel equipped to comment much on Campion as a character, except to say that he's quite superficially developed at this point and he and Lord Peter Wimsey might well be first cousins: both are charming and aristocratic (although Campion's status is only hinted at by other characters - he is, in fact operating under an assumed name) and can look deceptively silly and vacuous when they want to, to the detriment of anyone who has to match wits with them. He also slips quite adroitly into a Bertie Wooster type role when he is trying to lull people into thinking him inconsequential and stupid.

Anyhow, the story is about a family of middle-aged and elderly eccentrics who live in a house belonging to a formidable old lady who is mother to three of them and aunt to one. They are all financially dependent on her and there is considerable dislike and hatred between them all. Living with them, as a kind of companion-helper-factotum, is a young niece-by-marriage who is engaged to be married to a friend of Albert Campion. When one of the family disappears, the friend asks Campion to soothe his fiancée's worries by looking into the matter, but then the missing man turns up dead and it is clearly a case of murder. Campion ends up moving into the house to investigate and uncovers all sorts of motives for murder. The solution is strange and unsettling and the twist ending is not entirely plausible, but Allingham's writing makes it fun to read.

This type of story is a staple of classic detective fiction: a crime is committed in a house full of secrets and shadows, but where it deviates from the usual setting is that the house is, in fact, not a manor house out in the country, but is situated in Cambridge and it is not impossible that an outsider could have committed the initial murder. It then veers back into the "closed setting/small group of suspects" trope with the second murder and keeps the manor-house trope more or less on track after that.

The characters are quite superficial, but if you know the types, you can easily flesh them out in your head while reading. The seething hatreds and loathings of some of the family for each other are quite plausible, considering the rigidity with which the household is run - Victorian era style - by the family matriarch. There is a big secret in the story, the revealing of which made me quite sad, but one could see that the attitude of the character over whose head the secret was being held was not the attitude of the author, but rather her hammering home the antiquity of ideas rampant in the house.

Allingham manages to write the house and its inhabitants in such a way as to create an atmosphere of stagnation and oppressiveness, and when you add the weird and unsettling events that take place there - including murder, strange behaviour, blackmail and threats - this novel would make a nice, light Halloween read, preferably by candle light. The rigidity of the routines followed by the inhabitants is reminiscent of the traditions and routines described Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast
There are also a number of red herrings to make the plot even more convoluted.

Verdict: A satisfying read, but not one I'll keep or read again. I will, however, be sad to let go of the lovely cover.


Popular posts from this blog

Mystery author # 14: Patricia Wentworth

This time around I read three books for the review. Patricia Wentworth wrote about the same number of non-series mysteries/thrillers as she did Miss Silver books, but all I managed to get my hands on are Miss Silver stories, so the author review is based on them alone. (Typically, I came across some at the flea market on the weekend after I wrote the book reviews, but I’ll review them independently when I feel like reading them). Title: Grey Mask Series detective: Miss Maud Silver No. in series: 1 Year of publication: 1928 Type of mystery: General crime Type of investigator: Amateurs and private detective Setting & time: London, England, 1920’s Some themes: Blackmail, kidnapping, theft, murder Story: Charles Moray returns to England four years after his fiancé, Margaret Langton, jilted him, a week before their wedding. He discovers that she is a member of a secret society and that some of its members are planning to cause an heiress, Margot Standing, to lose her inheritanc

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

How to make a simple origami bookmark

Here are some instructions on how to make a simple origami (paper folding) bookmark: Take a square of paper. It can be patterned origami paper, gift paper or even office paper, just as long as it’s easy to fold. The square should not be much bigger than 10 cm/4 inches across, unless you intend to use the mark for a big book. The images show what the paper should look like after you follow each step of the instructions. The two sides of the paper are shown in different colours to make things easier, and the edges and fold lines are shown as black lines. Fold the paper in half diagonally (corner to corner), and then unfold. Repeat with the other two corners. This is to find the middle and to make the rest of the folding easier. If the paper is thick or stiff it can help to reverse the folds. Fold three of the corners in so that they meet in the middle. You now have a piece of paper resembling an open envelope. For the next two steps, ignore the flap. Fold the square diagonally in two. Yo