The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

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This book is the first story produced by Allingham featuring a detective, W.T. Challoner. It was actually compiled from a series which first appeared in the Daily Express in 1927. This is therefore not Allingham’s famous “sort of a detective”, Campion, but an older man, whose vast understanding of human nature means he can solve crimes that puzzle others.

The original format of the serial means that the chapters of this novel are very short, and the murder mystery is not complex as each chapter was not meant to be read closely following on from the previous one. Despite this, the crime is still singular in its gory detail and domestic setting. The suspects are more or less ticked off, before a shift of scene means that foreign travel and a whole new set of suspicious circumstances must be delved into by the two sleuths. The fortuitous arrival of Challoner’s son Jerry at the murder scene means that Challoner has a Watson to explain his thinking to, as well as a younger man to do some of the running around. Jerry’s solving of the crime is compromised by his affection for a suspect (as announced on the back cover of this edition), but does give rise to an interesting question unusual in this sort of investigation novel, as to whether the crime can be justified when it soon emerges that the victim is a very nasty person. This level of complexity in an otherwise standard murder mystery makes for a more interesting read than some classic reprints of the era. Allingham’s later development of Campion and his associates is not the classic murder mystery duly solved and murderer punished, if only because Campion is only a well -connected, amateur detective.  Her best known novel, Tiger in the Smoke, questions the nature of an evil person, and I think that this thinking is beginning to be seen in this early novel.

Overall, this is not a complex subtle novel in many ways, but a satisfying short read. The characters are interesting and well developed in a very clever, brief manner. This is not a great murder mystery, but as an early example of Allingham’s writings I found it very interesting and a sign of great things to come.

This is a very brief review as I confront the problem of how to write about a murder mystery without introducing the dreaded spoilers! This may be a book for those who want the complete set of Allingham’s mystery books, and Bloomsbury have filled a gap as well as providing a book for those who want a fairly brief read without discovering the delights of the rather more complex Campion, well brought to life by Peter Davison in the tv series of 1989…

Campion: The Complete Collection [1989] [DVD]

 

 

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