By Piper Breves
Do you like Agatha Christie? Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Do you like period pieces set between WWI and WWII? Great! I know your new favorite mystery series. Margery Allingham wrote 18 books about a British detective named Albert Campion. However, Albert Campion is not his real name. He is an aristocrat who was disowned from his very important, often hinted at, but never named family. They did not approve of him playing detective, so of course he needed a new name. His main technique is to appear vacant, foppish, and otherwise innocuous until he gets the information he needs and the mystery unravels, often through a reckless confrontation.
I first discovered these books in a dusty, tiny bookstore in Edinburgh. I was in the midst of my student teaching in the United Kingdom, and I reached fall break. I had somehow decided that one book of short stories by Fitzgerald would be enough for the entire week (I blame being broke and stressed out). I was an introvert travelling alone with zero internet, so another book was a must.
I was walking back from a botanical garden, and I found a used bookstore. It was a perfectly picturesque used bookstore: wooden shelves double and tripled stacked with faded paperbacks. I found a small book called Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham that would just fit in the pocket of my trench coat.
Death of a Ghost features Mr. Campion, gentleman detective. While he is visiting the aging household of a once-famous artist, the daughter’s ex-fiancé is murdered with some embellished scissors. The artist’s widow asks Mr. Campion to step in and work with the police, which of course he does. The part that endeared me forever to Mr. Campion was towards the end. Mr. Campion is invited over for a drink by the person he is certain is the murderer. It is obvious to him that the murderer intends to kill him. What should he do? Well, he could always give an excuse and blow this person off, but that would rude. So, Mr. Campion goes over for that drink, and nearly dies as a result. At least he had manners.
The books take place from 1929-1969. Mr. Campion was handily born in 1900, so it is very easy to determine his age in each book. That’s one of the best things about this series: Mr. Campion ages. He changes from carefree and silly to depressed to contented and anchored. You can tell from the tone where you are in his life story, which says buckets Margery Allingham’s amazing writing.
Margery Allingham is a character writer. Mr. Campion’s Watson is man who was a cat burglar until he got too wide. Lugg is a very snarky manservant with a strong cockney accent, who delights in teasing Mr. Campion over his love life and other problems. If you were looking for an Inspector Lestrade, Stanilaus Oates fits the bill, being both Mr. Campion’s bro and consistently exasperated with his unpredictable and talented friend. Mr. Campion’s rich friends sometimes bumble in to comical effect, and the side characters are vibrant and unique. Most importantly, Mr. Campion’s future wife is a young aristocratic woman who has a career designing aircrafts and is just as headstrong and reckless as he is.
Finding Mr. Campion set off many adventures to used bookstores across London. He is a friend to distract me from stress and long commutes. Finding that book in that used bookstore in Edinburgh is one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me.
Piper is a teacher in Austin, Texas. Despite the state, she’s a northerner in every sense of the word. She reads more than she should, and does a lot of bookshop tourism during her school breaks. She loves art museums, even tiny ones, and Shakespeare plays.