The great thing about going to book conferences is that there you are, penned up with a bunch of other people who all love books. This time it was the Poisoned Pen Con in Phoenix, a small, intimate gathering with single-track paneling where you have time to visit with other readers and hobnob with your favorite authors.
One of my favorite authors is Francine Matthews (aka Stephanie Barron) and she and I and Barbara Peters were talking about our favorite Golden Age mysteries. They were as one in declaring The Tiger in the Smoke to be one of their favorites.
I’d read a couple of the Albert Campion novels way back when, didn’t like them much and moved on, but if Francine and Barbara say it it must be so, I picked up a copy.
London, 1950. Beautiful couturier Meg Elginbrodde lost her husband in World War II and after mourning him for five years has become engaged to Geoffrey Levett. Unfortunately, as soon as they announce their wedding photos of her previously deceased husband begin appearing in the society journals, and she calls in Campion for help.
There is some lovely description here, especially of the oppressive London fog, “a saffron blanket soaked in ice-water” and “[the fog] oozed in ungenially, to smear sooty fingers over the two elegant young people who sat inside” and “greasy drapery.” Yeesh.
But what I love most about this book is the character descriptions. Take Campion’s associate, Divisional Detective Chief Inspector Charles Luke:
Charlie Luke in his spiv civilians looked at best like a heavyweight champion in training…His pile-driver personality…It made him an alarming enemy for someone.
When he is detailing a subordinate to accompany an unwilling Canon Avril, Luke says, “He’s my senior assistant, a quiet, discreet sort of man,” he added firmly, eying the sergeant with open menace.” You’d develop quiet discretion, too, if Luke looked at you that way.
Of Canon Avril, Meg’s father, Allingham writes:
He believed in miracles and frequently observed them, and nothing astonished him. His imagination was as wild as a small boy’s and his faith ultimate. In ordinary life he was, quite frankly, hardly safe out.
(As is made manifestly obvious when he nearly gets his daughter killed, for which Allingham never brings him to judgement, the only thing that irritates me here.)
There are lots of fun throwaway lines and phrases everywhere. Of one of the minor characters Allingham writes, “Her voice was gentle, placatory, and never-ending.” At one point Levett says, “Values are so relative…Hitler wanted the modern world. Well, I mean to say, Campion, look at the modern world!”