Albert Campion awakes in a hospital bed and… well, he’s got absolutely no idea how he got there. Or what he was doing. And who exactly he is… Suspected of assaulting a police officer, Campion goes on the run. Soon, however, he finds himself in the middle of the intrigue that put him in hospital in the first place.
The ancient order of the Masters of Bridge, a town in south-west England, are at the centre of mysterious goings-on that Campion was investigating but now, with his memory seemingly lost forever, he finds himself playing a dangerous game. Can he fool his mysterious adversaries into thinking that they’re up against Campion at the height of his powers? But given that he can’t even recognise his fiancée and his manservant Lugg, will he be able to fool anyone?
For someone who has read a lot of crime fiction, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that this is the first Margery Allingham/Campion novel that I’ve read. I have a memory of the BBC TV series – basically, Peter Davison acting posh and Brian Glover doing what Brian Glover did best – but not much more than that. So I was coming into this one completely cold.
And it probably wasn’t the best place to start – a book told entirely from the hero’s point of view when the hero doesn’t know who he is and is apparently acting out of character. So presumably, Campion is normally a bit of an arse, as he’s acting like a normal human being here.
There’s an interesting twist to be played with this set-up, namely that the Campion that we’re reading about isn’t actually Campion. Unfortunately we don’t go there. Instead this reader spent most of the time wondering what the heck was going on, and not in a good way. When the voice of the book is just as confused as to what’s going on as the reader, it doesn’t exactly make a match made in heaven.
Allingham is always mentioned as one of the big four female crime writers of the Golden Age, alongside Christie, Marsh and Sayers. Gladys Mitchell never made the cut apparently. But this is nowhere near the quality of a Christie. In fact (and those who’ve read my Marsh reviews will appreciate the weight of this) this is nowhere near the quality of a Marsh novel either.
It’s a shame to say this, but I really didn’t think much of this book at all. Possibly due to it being a stupid pick for the first Allingham, but it’s not really a mystery – the identity of the villain would have been more of a surprise if it had been anyone different and the central theme of the plan? Ditto. So a massive disappointment and not recommended as an introduction to Allingham.
Can anyone recommend a better Campion to give Allingham a second chance?