Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dancers in Mourning: Margery Allingham


Thus far in my rereading of the Albert Campion series (Death of a Ghost and Flowers for the Judge), I have found the books to have fantastical plots and weird characters. This story was less fantastical but the number of extremely unusual, self-absorbed characters made up for it. The story centers around the star of a musical review (Jimmy Sutane) who has been targeted by a malicious prankster. Campion has been brought in to help him out with this problem. Many of the cast have gone to his country house for the weekend and Campion is invited to join them on Sunday. By the end of that day a woman has died, run over by a car driven by Jimmy Sutane. Although there is no convincing evidence, Campion suspects it may be murder.

Campion hardly detects at all in this story. Early on, he falls for Jimmy Sutane's wife, Linda, and thus when the family is presented with a murder in its midst, he prefers to stay out of it, because his detecting may end up causing her pain. This seems a bit too melodramatic for me, but otherwise the story would have been over much sooner, so that device plays the role of extending the plot. Almost to the end, Campion is so stuck in the morass of his problems that he misses what really happened. I had no suspicions of who the culprit must be, although I think I might have had I paid more attention.

I did not like most of the characters because they were unforgivably selfish and thoughtless. The characters are either actors or so immersed in the theatrical production that they ignore everything else. The victim, Chloe Pye, was a nuisance and unpopular, and most of them as just as glad she is gone. Jimmy and Linda don't have much time to spend with their six-year-old daughter, Sarah, who leads a very lonely life.


That all sounds like I did not like this novel, but I did. I am under Allingham's spell, and even a lesser effort is fun for me. The plot dragged in spots, and went on too long, but there were bits of it that I loved. Uncle William, the author of the memoir that the musical review is based on, is an old friend of Campion's and one of the few likable characters. His presence injected some humor into the proceedings. When the Sutane's butler quits after a disastrous party, Campion's manservant Lugg is dragooned into acting as butler for as long as needed. He and the sweet Sarah Sutane become fast friends; he teaches her card tricks and how to pick locks.

I have a lovely hardback edition of Dancers in Mourning with map endpapers (no dust jacket though). Years ago I purchased the same edition but with the endpapers covers with stamps and writing, so I was happy to find a much better copy recently. My paperback edition is a TV series tie-in edition.

This is my submission for the book of 1937 for the Crimes of the Century meme for this month, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. This post is also submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Hat" category.

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Publisher:  Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1937.
Length:      336 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Albert Campion
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.


18 comments:

  1. Not one I'll be seeking out thanks, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. That is funny, Col. when I was writing up this post, I was thinking, I don't think Col will be interested in this book. Truly.

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  2. Isn't it interesting, Tess, how we can be so impacted by whether we like characters or not. I know what you mean about being put off by really selfish characters, too. Still, I'm glad you enjoyed the novel.

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    1. I guess we all have our own bias about characteristics that bother us, Margot. But the author's writing style is often what makes the difference for me.

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  3. This was my favourite Allingham when I first read them more than 20 years ago: I think I would still enjoy it but it might no longer be top of my list. I love Uncle William though - doesn't he say he got the details for his memoir from Kipling/the Jungle Book? I've always remembered the word banderloggy (sp?) down the years because of that. Now I want to re-read it.

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    1. I initially was irritated with Uncle William (I must have been a bad mood at the time) but I grew to like him a lot. The memoirs were invented, as you say, but I had forgotten the reference to Jungle Book. He says: "Got all my India for my memoirs out of The Jungle Books and Around the World in Eighty Days".

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  4. Here's the problem with me and this series: I hate Lugg. Ha! Also in one of the books I read there was some very repugnant anti-Semitism which really offended me. Normally that kind of stuff flies under the radar with me because of the times the books were written in, but sometimes not. However, I did read a non-Campion book of hers and enjoyed it - BLACK PLUMES, I think. And I did like (grudgingly) the Undertaker book - forgot the title. :)

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    1. Yvette, I can see why you (and others) would have problems with the Albert Campion books but for some reason I really enjoy them. The idea of someone having a manservant is weird to me, but I do enjoy the Campion / Lugg relationship. I am determined to read all the books from this point to Tiger in the Smoke (five books) and hopefully get to Tiger in the Smoke by the end of this year. More Work for the Undertaker is right before Tiger in the Smoke.

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  5. I'm with Col. Colman on this one, but I did enjoy your review, Tracy. It's the people, the characters, I don't think I would like. Theater people have always put me off--except when they're on.

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    1. I have no knowledge of real theater people, Mathew, but my husband and I were in community theater for a while (eons ago before we got married, actually). Even though we all had real day jobs, that meant spending all other time at the theater for two months for a play, and fragile egos, and artistic temperament, etc. My husband was sometimes an actor, sometimes tech director, I was only tech. Just that little bit of interaction with amateur theatrics put me off of actors, directors, etc.

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  6. I've yet to read an Allingham novel but I keep saying someday, someday. A friend emailed me asking me to read an Allingham she enjoyed so it looks like the books do hold up well. --Keishon

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    1. I do hope you enjoy Allingham when you read one of her books, Keishon. It seems that readers who like Golden Age mysteries are divided, and I think they change over time, so some readers may like some books she wrote but not others. Tiger in the Smoke is very popular, but I haven't reread that one yet.

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    2. Amazon has quite a few of hers available. I try to stay away from the latter ones that's written by someone else. I do have Tiger in the Smoke. --K.

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    3. You will probably get to Tiger in the Smoke before me, Keishon, although I would love to get to it in 2017. Although I was sure I had read all of her books, that is the only one I remember nothing about. I have some that were written by her husband but I may never get to those.

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  7. I read a whole stack of Allingham in my dewy youth. Not sure I'd still go for them. I think "uneven" might be my word them. But hey, any book with a map of the scene of the crime on the endpapers has a lot going for it.

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    1. Uneven is a good description, Susan. And, yes, I do love this copy of Dancers in Mourning, with the lovely map.

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  8. This always struck me as a good example of why I like Allingham so much more than Ngaio Marsh - same sort of plot but I much prefer Campion and Lugg and the Allingham style! Looks like I am allowed to post on blogger accounts again (let's hope the wars with Wordpress users end soon)

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    1. I am very glad that Blogger is letting you comment, Sergio. Sometimes I have problems with commenting on Wordpress blogs and I know how frustrating it can be.

      I was hoping to be able to get easy and inexpensive access to the Campion TV series for the last couple of books I have read, but I am not finding any. So I am toying with laying out a lots of money for the 2nd season.

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