Mystery Review: The Return of Mr Campion, Margery Allingham (1989/2019)
Updated: Mar 23, 2019
The Return of Mr Campion is a collection of thirteen short stories - plus some musings - from Golden Age mystery standout Margery Allingham. As a more casual fan of Allingham and her famous detective, Albert Campion, I enjoyed this book as a reintroduction to her writing - it made me want to dig back in and go through her full canon, with a better understanding of how she started with Campion and how he evolved. This collection also reminded me of some of the more varied collections of Christie's short stories, particularly The Golden Ball & Other Stories, as well as the many short story collections of L.M. Montgomery (she wrote a lot besides the Anne of Green Gables series1)
Allingham is, as always, a masterful writer, and I enjoyed this book a good deal overall, as I was able to dip in and out of the stories and see a variety of her work. Like a good party, I could spend more time with the stories I especially enjoyed, and give a miss to any I didn't find especially compelling.
In this book, I especially enjoyed the insight into her writing life, the evolution of her relationship of writing Campion, and the non-Campion tales. Highlights for me were 'Sweet and Low' - an almost Wodehouse-esque light romance, 'Happy Christmas' - a lovely little story about what family can be at Christmas, and 'What to Do With an Ageing Detective' - where Allingham has a mock-conversation with Campion's longtime manservant.
None of these stories really feature any shocking twists or innovative take on the mystery genre, but they are, on balance, a good set of trifles. Given that short stories have fallen out of fashion with the relative decline of magazines and other media to print them, I liked having the chance to enjoy some Allingham without having to commit to a whole novel. It was a nice change of pace.
However, fair warning before you dive in: not all of the stories feature Campion, not all are mysteries (there's a sprinkling of light romance and fantasy), and the language and themes used in a few of these stories will likely dated and offensive to the modern reader. (In particular, 'The Dog Day,' 'The Wind Glass,' and 'The Black Tent' really haven't aged well.)
Overall: 4 Sherlocks - a couple gems I know I'll re-read again many times, some serviceable Campion, and a couple I probably won't go back to again - which is just fine for a quick short story collection. Pairs well with a selection of light sorbets or box of assorted truffles, as this book was a nice palette cleanser and mixed bag of (mostly) treats.
Note: I received an advance review copy of this book.