Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars (7/10)
On a Margery Allingham list I'm on, someone accidently posted a message that was meant to go to a different Allingham list - one for group reads of the Campion books. This seemed like an excellent idea and I nipped over and joined. They are still early in the series (this is the fourth book) so I jumped in with glee. I've read Police at the Funeral before, but on starting it, I couldn't remember exactly what happened or who "dunnit". In fact, as I kept reading, I still couldn't remember. While my terrible memory (made worse by all my years of CFS) is often a detriment, in this case it was a great advantage.
The story appears simple: an old friend of Campion's asks his to ease his fiance's fears about the disappearance of her uncle. However, the story gets murkier and nastier and more confusing with each passing page. The lost Uncle Andrew is part of a decidedly dysfunction family still living in the 1890's or so (the book is set in 1931) and run with an iron fist by Great Aunt Caroline who keeps her middle-aged children (William, Julia and Kitty) and nephew, Andrew, at home with her and treats them as if they were still in the nursery.
By the time Campion arrives in Cambridge, Uncle Andrew has been found dead. By the time he's been there a couple of days, Aunt Julia is dead under mysterious circumstances and Uncle William is under suspicion of murder. It is up to Campion to solve the mystery, save the family name and hopefully prevent any more deaths.
It is in this book that Allingham's writing becomes much deeper and more serious than it was in the earlier Campion books, which have a certain Boy's Own Adventure atmosphere to them. This novel, despite a strong and moody description of London at the very beginning, looks like it may be the same. Campion, lurking in a deliberately dramatic hidden meeting place and dressed in a Holmes-style deerstalker cap, waits to meet a young woman and soothe her worries with a performance as the "clever detective". But it is soon clear her troubles are real ones and Campion abandons his frivolity at the same moment he abandons the cap, becoming serious about the case. Despite his sometimes contradictory appearance, he is to remain so in his following adventures in print. Allingham's skill in description also comes to the fore, as the forbidding house in Socrates Close almost becomes a character in its own right - and a disturbing and dangerous character too.
As I said, I couldn't remember who the murderer was as I re-read Police at the Funeral. Up to the revelation I still didn't. I was both surprised and disappointed. The solution was clever, although the character's immediately assumption to why it had all been done did seem rather simplistic to me. However, I think that is just a difference in seventy year's perspective. We try to make some things more complicated these days.
This is a good book and I enjoyed spending time with Campion again. I am looking forward to re-reading Sweet Danger with the list. Yay, I'll get to meet Amanda all over again.
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