ffb: Death of a Ghost

this is the 134th in my series of posts on forgotten or seldom read books

Death of A Ghost by Margery Allingham, Carroll & Graff 1997 – paperback, original publication: 1934, Albert Campion, amateur sleuth

death of a ghost“There are, fortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.”

This is Margery Allingham’s seventh Albert Campion novel and I place it with her “early” efforts. The Campion character is still in the formative stage but showing signs of maturity. The earliest appearances of Campion have him speaking in an artificially high voice, wearing unneeded horn-rimmed glasses and affecting several mannerisms. The background story on Campion is that he is of royal blood, and has adopted the name Albert Campion and the slight disguise and persona described above in order to prevent embarrassment to the Royal Family. Very few know of this connection, and he is a slight, unassuming man. He is an amateur detective but does have a connection to Scotland Yard in the person of his old friend Inspector Stanislas Oates (Campion seems to have many “old friends”) and has access to the facts of the investigation and is invited to witness interviews with suspects and so forth. Oates has come, we are told, to trust Campion’s instincts, and is willing to breech Yard policy and include this civilian in police business.

The novel has an art setting. Artist John Lafcado has left an unusual legacy: twelve paintings. He painted, sealed and numbered them and beginning in the eleventh year after his death his art dealer will unseal, frame and send one per year to his widow. The “new” painting will then be shown in the artists’ studio. Lafcado was a major artist, so this will be a major event in the art – and social – life of London and, the artist hopes, cause much gnashing of the teeth by his dispised rival Tanqueray who has been hoping to gain ascendancy in the English art world upon Lafcado’s death.

Tanqueray follows Lafcado to the grave within two years, removing the purpose behind the annual show, but the artists’ instructions are carried out anyway and all goes well until the eighth year, the starting point for this novel.

During the show the lights go out (yes, here it comes..), there is the sound of someone falling to the floor, the lights come back on and Lafcado’s son Thomas Dacre is dying, a knife protruding from his chest. The police investigation, done as quietly and quickly as possible because of the many dignitaries present at the painting’s unveiling,  results in no definite evidence and no arrest. Campion, a friend of the artists’ widow, Belle, is present at the murder and at her request investigates.

I’ll not give you more of the story, but just will say I enjoyed this book, which is a typical example of Allingham’s Campion books. I place the Allingham novels in the Christie and Sayers neighborhood, in terms of weight and I like Campion – silly as he sometimes is –  every bit as much as the Christie (Poirot) or Sayers (Lord Peter) characters. If I had some time to curl up with a book and wanted something in the way of a golden age novel, this and the others by Allingham would make good choices.

Recommended – good either as a change of pace or to readers who like golden age mysteries but haven’t yet gotten around to reading Campion.

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More Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s fine blog Pattinase

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9 Responses to ffb: Death of a Ghost

  1. I read Allingham’s THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE a few years ago. Although Christie and Sayers have their proponents, Allingham doesn’t get mentioned much these days. Thanks for reminding us!

  2. Bill Crider says:

    Tiger in the Smoke is the only Allingham I’ve read, too, mainly because it used to be so widely available in paperback. Good book, too.

  3. Never read any Allingham

  4. Yvette says:

    I did try to read a couple many years ago, Richard, but Campion’s mannerisms got tiresome for me. However, I’ve heard so many good things about Allingham that I’m tempted to give her creation another looksee. I usually love books from this era. Of this particular one, I love the art setting of course. Thanks for the intro.

  5. John says:

    This is the year I am supposed to read Allingham. I’m hoping to get to her next month. I have this one in a paperback edition. Most of the Allingham books I own are in the Doubleday Crime Club editions but they’ve just been siitng on the shelf looking pretty. I have a biography of her as well with the excellent title INK IN HER BLOOD.

  6. Richard says:

    I’d say Traitor’s Purse may be my favorite of hers.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I haven’t read one of these in years, though after reading Christie, Sayers, Heyer and Marsh I did read a few of these. I vaguely remember liking DEATH OF A GHOST as much as any of them but just never cared for Campion at all. I will never read another, in all likelihood.

  8. Richard says:

    Jeff, the later in the series you get, the less Campion’s personality is off-kilter. If you haven’t tried Traitor’s Purse, you should before you give up on Allingham.

  9. Pingback: Nautical naughtiness – Classic crime in the blogosphere, January 2014 | Past Offences

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