Margery Allingham is one of the four Queens of Crime (alongside Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and, of course, Agatha Christie), and has been named by J.K. Rowling as her favourite of the bunch. She wrote over forty crime novels and short story collections over the span of her career, as well as a wartime autobiography, and three thrillers published under the pseudonym Maxwell March.
Her oeuvre can seem intimidating to a beginner, so we’ve put together a handy guide. Together, these works should give you an overall feel for Allingham’s style and eloquence, and should prepare you to delve into the rest of her many masterpieces.
Though The Crime at Black Dudley is not Allingham’s first novel, it does mark the first appearance of her pivotal detective-hero, Albert Campion. Campion would go on to feature in eighteen Allingham novels and many short stories, and is the creation for which she is most remembered. In The Crime at Black Dudley, a house party takes a disturbing turn when guests decide to recreate the ritual of the Black Dudley Dagger. Told from the perspective of the daring George Abbershaw, Campion appears as an enigmatic guest who is slowly introduced to the reader through Abbershaw.
All of the early Campion mysteries are well worth a read, but it is in Sweet Danger that the Allingham ‘world’ truly begins to stand out. Campion is called in to investigate an oil rich principality on the Adriatic Sea after an earthquake leaves it a vital trading port. With hired thugs, inscrutable aristocracy, and a mystery that continues to unravel beneath Campion’s fingers, the narrative is gripping in its detailed moments as well as its wider plot. Sweet Danger also introduces the fantastic Amanda Fitton, Campion’s long time love interest and eventual wife.
Jimmy Sutane is the star of a new musical who finds himself victim to a series of escalating practical jokes. Campion visits the Sutane household to investigate, and stumbles upon more than he bargains for. Dancers in Mourning is one of the best examples of Allingham’s ability to build atmosphere; it is a fascinating exploration into the world of high-strung entertainers and the cracked reality beneath shiny façades.
Traitor’s Purse is considered one of Allingham’s masterpieces: an enduring war classic packed full of conspiracy, forgery, and deception. It was later discovered that the narrative Allingham created actually paralleled a real Nazi plot during the war – which you can read more about here.
The Tiger in the Smoke is possibly Allingham’s best known work. An exciting and gripping tale set in post-war London, it features deceit, kidnapping, and murder. Campion works with Inspector Luke to uncover the identity and motive of violent escaped convict. The Tiger in the Smoke was a wildly successful novel, and was adapted for film in 1956. It’s been named by J. K. Rowling as her favourite crime novel.
We hope this introduction to Allingham has increased the length of your To Be Read list! Keep an eye out for special offers, news and new releases, and follow our twitter account @CrimeClassics to stay up to date with the world of classic crime.