Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: Albert Campion

When I added the Campion Christmas stories to the festive reading blog, I realised that I hadn’t ever written a Series I love post about Margery Allingham’s detective and so one was really somewhat overdue.  So, to start off the new year, I’m putting that omission to rights.

Old Penguin copy of The Beckoning Lady

Albert Campion – not his real name – is a detective and problem solver.  He’s got an aristocratic background that is hinted and and has to be pieced together* – and many sources say he started as a parody of my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey.  Indeed as well as their family history, their physical description is fairly similar – Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses and has a face that is described as bland and inoffensive and as having a deceptively blank expression.  Wimsey by contrast is describes as being fair, average height, with a monocle and with a vaguely foolish face.  You see what I mean?  But as the books go on Albert is definitely his own man and a character in his own right.  He’s more of an adventurer and a man of action than many of his Golden Age Counterparts – and more often on the edge of the law.  Where Wimsey has Bunter – a gentleman’s gentleman with a flare for photography and chemistry – Albert has Lugg, an ex-con with a passion for trying to better himself but constantly being reminded of his past as he and Albert encounter his former criminal associates.  Albert’s friend in the police is the detective Stanislas Oates, who over the course of the series rises through the ranks of The Yard to become its chief.

The Campion stories tend more towards the adventure than straight up detective fiction – for example, my particular favourite is Sweet Danger which sees Albert posing as minor royalty at a foreign watering home and then attempting to outwit a criminal mastermind in the hunt for documents to prove who the ruler of a tiny but oil rich principality is.  There are chases, and a treasure hunt, and evil machinations and attempted witchcraft and it all builds to a very satisfactory conclusion.  The one in the series which gets most attention is The Tiger in the Smoke – which is a thriller not a detective novel – as Albert tries to track down a psychopath in foggy, smoggy London.  I also really like The Fashion in Shrouds, in which Albert’s fashion designer sister (also estranged from the aristocratic family) falls under suspicion after two deaths that are rather convenient for her best friend.

Copies of The Fashion in Shrouds and Flowers for the Judge

The series started in the 1930s and ran through until the 1960s, so I need to add my usual caveat about there being some dated attitudes and language in some of these – particularly the Fashion in Shrouds if I recall correctly – which means that the modern reader needs to approach with slight caution, but I don’t think there’s anything worse here than there is in Christie or Sayers.

There are 19 Campion novels written by Margery Allingham, two more written by her husband (who completed the final Allingham novel after her death) and then another five modern continuations by Mike Ripley.  I’ve read most of the Allingham written stories – although interestingly I think Campion’s first appearance, as a side character in The Crime at Black Dudley, is one of the ones in the series that I haven’t read.  I can almost see your puzzled face at this – but I have an explanation: I discovered Campion when I was living in Essex and on a very tight budget.  I was reading my way through the local library’s detective selection and they had a whole shelf of Campions – because Margery Allingham was a local author.  I promptly read my way through as many as I could lay my hands on – but it was pre-goodreads and I wasn’t keeping track.  I still don’t own many of them – a fact which has hampered me not inconsiderably in putting this post together!

There were also two series of TV adaptations in the early 1990s, starring Peter Davison as Campion, which do occasionally pop up on TV (usually on Alibi or Drama) which are fun if not entirely faithful to the plot and a bit clunking in places.  They’re definitely not as well put together as the Joan Hickson Miss Marples for example, the David Suchet Poirots or the Inspector Alleyn adaptations, but if you like the books then they’re worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

I’ve got a couple of Campions as audiobooks too which has actually been a really nice way to revisit the series.  Once I get my audiobook and podcast backlogs back down and under control, I’m planning to get a few more – and fill in some of the gaps in the series.

If you’ve read any Campion books – or have a favourite – let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading!

*And I can’t remember all the pieces at the moment!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Mystery of Three Quarters

This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely!  Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.

Cover of The Mystery of Three Quarters

As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder.  Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her.  Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter.  The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters.  So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.

And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.

My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: A Presumption of Death

Before we start, another quick reminder of last week’s World Cup avoidance books – which includes Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games, which would totally have been a candidate for BotW if I hadn’t given that accolade to Clean last month.  And I did deliberate for a while about what to pick this week.  I read some really good stuff, but quite a lot of it is already earmarked for other posts and I didn’t want to give up my other plans.  But it does seem in keeping with my long-professed love of Peter Wimsey that I should pick A Presumption of Death, even if I’m a little conflicted about it and it’s a much more qualified review than a whole hearted recommendation.

A slightly battered paperback copy of A Presumption of Death

This is the second novel in the Jill Paton Walsh Wimsey continuations.  I’ve totally read them out of order, so I’ve already read the two that follow it.  This is set just after the start of the Second World War and sees Harriet ensconced at Tallboys with her children and the Parker children and Peter is away on some mysterious war work abroad.  The village is adapting to the new rules of war time – evacuees have arrived in the village, there are land girls working on the farms and people are leaving for factory jobs or the services all over the place.  When one of the land girls is found dead in the street as the village emerges from an air raid drill, Superintendent Kirk asks for Harriets help with the murder investigation.  At first, she finds it a helpful distraction from worrying about what Peter is doing abroad, but soon she’s missing his help as she digs into the possible motivations for the crime.

This feels more like a “proper” Wimsey mystery than the two that follow it, but it’s still Not Quite Right.  I’ve only read Thrones, Dominations (the first continuation) once and it was six years ago, but I’m listening to it on Audible at the moment and I think that is more Sayers than this – but that’s probably unsurprising considering that with that first one Paton Walsh was finishing an unfinished Sayers manuscript, whereas with this just has extracts from The Wimsey Papers (a series of letters, written by Sayers from various of the Wimsey characters, that were published in the Spectator during the war) in it.  In fact I think most of the best bits of the plot come from ideas and information in the Wimsey Papers and most of the bits that I don’t like are the bits that Paton Walsh has done herself.  In fact the more I think about the book to write this, the more problems I have with it.

I did like the mystery and its solution, but I did have some parts of it figured out much earlier on than Harriet did – which is unusual for me in a Wimsey book and reminded me that it wasn’t a “proper” Sayers.  It was nice to see a lot of the characters from Busman’s Honeymoon again, but perhaps because of my extreme familiarity* with the audiobook of that, there were some bits that didn’t ring true to me, although that same extreme familiarity with the Ian Carmichael Wimsey meant that I could practically hear his voice saying some of the Peter lines!  There are some nice Harriet and Peter moments in here too – but the more I analysed them, the more I realised that the best ones were rehashes of earlier interactions from the other Harriet and Peter books.  I think there were probably a few anachronisms of language in here as well – there were a few bits that didn’t seem quite right to me, although I’m not enough of an expert to tell.

I suppose what I’ve worked out in writing this is how much I wish there were more Wimsey books, and how much I want to like the Paton Walsh continuations (even as I find issues with them) because I want there to be more stories about Peter and Harriet for me to read.  I’ve kept hold of my copy of this one for now – and I suspect I’ll come back and reread it after I’ve done another reread of the Peter and Harriet books to see how it holds up when they’re fresh in my mind.  I picked up my copy from the charity shop (as you can probably tell from the photo!), but the Kindle and Kobo editions is 99p at the moment, which is a much better price than it usually is – and so if you’re a mystery fan – and you’re not the sort of reader who is going to have your love for the series proper messed up if you don’t like this – then go for it. The next book in the series – The Attenbury Emeralds – is also 99p at the moment, but be warned, I really didn’t like the direction that that took the series in, so approach with caution.  I’m off to finish listening to Thrones, Dominations and then I’ll go back to Strong Poison and start Peter and Harriet’s story all over again. Again.

Happy Reading!

*As in I listen to it at least once a month – it’s one of my regular late night listens when I’m away from home, as are the other Wimsey audiobooks and some of the BBC Radio full cast adaptations.

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I Love: Daisy Dalrymple

It occurred to me while I was writing last week’s BotW post that I haven’t actually written a proper post about Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series and that I should definitely remedy that.  So here is the latest in my (very) occasional Series I Love series (too many serieses? Sorry.  I’m bad with names and it’s too late to change that).  Anyway, this is one of my favourite interwar-set murder mystery series and it’s long over due a post here on the blog.

At the start of the series, it’s 1923 and Daisy is trying find a way to make her living independent of her family.  She’s an Honorable, but her only brother was killed in the Great War and her father died in the Spanish Flu outbreak, which meant the title, the family home and the family fortune went to a cousin.  Daisy had been engaged during the war – but her fiancé, who was a conscientious objector, died while driving an ambulance in France.  And so she finds herself in the brave new post-war world needing to make her own way in the world and with few options of how to do it.  So she’s trying to make some money writing articles about the stately homes of Britain, using the connections she has because of her family and upbringing.

That’s exactly what she’s doing in the first book, Death at Wentwater Court.  It’s her first assignment for Town and Country magazine, going to a country house party so that she can write an article about the history of the house.  But things are not all sunshine and roses at the house and she stumbles over a corpse.  Armed with her camera and her shorthand skills, Daisy’s soon working alongside the police as they investigate what happened, although Daisy’s friendship with the family means she’s really hoping that it won’t turn out that one of them is the culprit.  It sets up Daisy and her regular gang and introduces Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher and his team from Scotland Yard.  It also has an ending that not everyone will be able to get on board with (although I didn’t really have a problem with it) – but I can’t really explain what the problem is without giving a big old spoiler.

I think my favourite book of the series may be book four – Murder on the Flying Scotsman.  Daisy is off to Scotland on a writing assignment when a murder is committed on the train.  To complicate things, Alec’s young daughter is also on board after running away from home and her grandmother.  The murder suspects are the family of one of Daisy’s old schoolmates, and when Alec is called in to investigate the attraction between him and Daisy comes to a head.  The mystery is good – and if you’ve read the rest of the series, the start of a resolution to Alec and Daisy is delicious to read about.

Daisy makes for an interesting heroine and makes a nice counter point to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher who is at a similar level in society, but with different resources and a different view of the world. Daisy is was brought up to be a good wife to the right sort of nobleman, but realises that the war and her newly reduced circumstances probably mean that her chance of that sort of life has passed her by. Daisy doesn’t get on with her mother, doesn’t want to be dependent on the charity of a distant cousin and has come up with an ingenious way of exploiting her skills and experience to try and gain her independence.  Yes, people seem willing to tell her their secrets on very little acquaintance, but people tell my mum things she doesn’t need/want to know all the time, so I can totally buy into the idea of someone having a sympathetic face!

As the series goes on, Daisy’s life goes down a more traditional route – she gets married and has children, but she’s still trying to maintain her own interests and just can’t stop getting tangled up with murders.  So far (twenty-two books in, with a twenty-third out later in the year after a three year gap) Dunn has also managed to keep Daisy moving around and avoid too much repetition of set ups and avoid Daisy falling victim to the Jessica Fletcher effect.  The books are a great hybrid of the modern cozy crime novel and a Golden Age murder mystery, which make for a really relaxing way to pass time.  Writing this post has made me want to go back and read the series all over again.  In fact I may well do!

If this has inspired you to go and try some Daisy, the first four books are available as an omnibus edition on Kindle – which is how I started out on the series, although I got it for considerably less than the £6.99 it costs at time of writing, so it might be worth adding it to your watch list if you’re on a budget.  They’re also available as paperbacks as you can tell from the pictures – the first few are often available in the crime sections of the larger bookstores, I also picked up mine from a charity shop, which had almost the whole set – requiring a considerable amount of willpower from me to resist going wild.

And if you want to know more about my favourite characters in books, you can read previous installments of Series I Love on Lord Peter Wimsey, and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series.  As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history.  Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.

Pink Cnarnation books
My Pink Carnation book collection (there are more on the kindle) in Book Central

To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD.  At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies.  She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all.  The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807.  The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal.  There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.

And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues.  In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that.  Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book.  So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).

Pink Carnation book covers
My distinctly non-matching collection (hardback, US & UK paperbacks) is hard to photograph neatly!

I’ve loved this series.  I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time.  Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next.  As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more.  The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**

I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle.  Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books).  So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events!  But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!

Pink Carnation books in a pile
I tried to make a funky pile. It was harder than I expected. I’m not cut out for photography.

You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy!  If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…

* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!

** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books.  In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent).  In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent.  This bears investigation.  I smell a future post…