Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Death of a Ghost: Margery Allingham


Summary from the The Margery Allingham Society website:
John Sebastian Lafcadio, one of the greatest painters of the Edwardian period, left twelve pictures to be exhibited, one every year, after his death. But there is an unexpected event at the unveiling of the eighth painting -- murder. Albert Campion must employ all his tact as well as his formidable intelligence to trap the killer. The author's observation of the art world, both aristocratic and bohemian, ensures that Death of a Ghost is a remarkable novel as well as a compelling mystery.
I was tentative about rereading Margery Allingham's books, because I reread Sweet Danger several years ago and wasn't as taken with it as I had been the first time around. Still, I had decided to start from there and reread all of the books up to The Tiger in the Smoke, and the choice of 1934 for the Crimes of the Century meme  was the perfect motivation to get started on that.

I needn't have worried about liking this book. I liked the story and the way Allingham tells it. Campion is an old friend of Belle's, thus he is present when the first murder occurs at the unveiling of the painting when the crime occurs. And of course he brings in his friend Stanislaus Oates of Scotland Yard and gets involved in the investigation.

There are many other eccentric characters to enjoy here. Belle, Lafcadio's wife, is central to the story. I loved her goodness, the way she felt responsible for the women who live with her and others who have cottages on the grounds of Little Venice, her home. They all depend on her generosity to live in comfortable circumstances. There is Donna Beatrice, who was a model for Lafcadio and sees herself as more important to his work than she was. There are the Potters, an artistic couple, and Fred Rennie, the man who made Lafcadio's secret paint recipes.

Max Fustian is the art dealer who represented Lafcadio before his death and was commissioned, along with Belle, to handle the exhibition and sale of each of the twelve pictures. He is another unusual character, affected and self-important.

The plot is complex, but in a good way. This did not feel like a whodunnit. For almost half of the book, the killer is known to Campion and Inspector Oates. However they can find no proof. And they both fear that more deaths will occur if they cannot unmask the murderer.

I like what Patrick of At the Scene of the Crime says about Allingham's books and their reception:
It seems that, of the traditional “Crime Queens” (Christie, Sayers, Marsh, and Allingham) Allingham provokes the most extreme reactions. It seems that half the people who approach her books absolutely love them, and the other half despise them and wonder how anyone could enjoy them. I personally belong to the first camp: I really like Allingham, but not for her plotting ability (which is limited). No, I tend to read Allingham for her style, her characters, and her writing.
Other reviews of this book:


As noted above, this book is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature. This month the year chosen was 1934.

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Publisher:  Bantam, 1985. Orig. pub. 1934.
Length:     206 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Albert Campion, #6
Setting:     UK, mostly London
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy. 

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shoutout Tracy. I really liked this one too - and I agree that Patrick's analysis is a good one. I read all the Allingham I could get my hands on 30 years ago, and as I slowly re-read them I am still very impressed. I really liked the art setting in this one, which seemed very authentic.

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    1. Allingham's husband was a painter, which I think is why the artistic setting does feel authentic.

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    2. The funny thing is that I had forgotten about Patrick's review until I read yours again recently, Moira. Somehow the summaries I had read of this novel had never interested me, but it was really good, and I am now gung ho to continue on with the books.

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    3. Ed, I had forgotten that Philip Youngman Carter was an artist.

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  2. Tracy - Allingham certainly was skilled at creating solid puzzles and interesting characters - more talented than she gets credit for, I sometimes think. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Well, I certainly enjoyed the plot and characters in this one, Margot.

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  3. Great review, Tracy. I'm so glad you enjoyed this book, evidently as much as I did.

    Thanks for the mention.

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    1. Thanks, John. I think I did enjoy it as much as you did. And for much the same reasons.

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  4. Forgot to tick the Notify Me box . .. .

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  5. Glad you enjoyed it, but I don't think I will be following you by reading this one. Tiger in the Smoke - one day!

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    1. Col, I have several books in the series to go before I get to Tiger in the Smoke, but that is a goal for me too.

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  6. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. I have never read Margery Allingham and she is one of a growing number of mystery authors I intend to read.

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    1. I hope you do get to some books by Allingham, Prashant. She is a Golden Age author that deserves to be read. Her books vary and Campion changes throughout the series, which is nice.

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  7. First of all, that cover is so great. You find so many great older editions, and since I'm tired of the same old covers for new books, I'm grateful.

    Second, the only Allingham I've read was Tiger, and it was very good. Hope you enjoy it as well!

    I've been reading some older stuff recently too, but nothing that sounds as great as this. I will add it to my list.

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    1. I do like that cover too, Rebecca. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book too. Keeps me motivated to read more Allingham's. I will be glad when I get to Tiger in the Smoke. If I ever read it, I don't remember anything about it.

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  8. Barring a couple, Allingham has never really appealed to me but your review makes me want to try reading this book of hers. Thanks.

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    1. I did like this one a lot, neer, and I hope that I continue to enjoy the series.

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    2. I liked this a lot too. Mind you, I don't think I've ever read an Allingham that I didn't like at one level or another . . . except for the posthumous continuations by P. Youngman Carter.

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    3. I read all of them decades ago (or at least I think I read them all) and liked them then. But it is interesting to see how I get on with them now. I don't know if I have ever read the P. Youngman Carter continuations but I do plan to try them.

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  9. Wow i can say that this is another great article as expected of this blog.Bookmarked this site..
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