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Allingham tackles sci-fi, with reluctant help from Campion!
on 7 August 2012
Fans of particular novelists have a tendency to want more of the same. That is why Agatha Christie is the most successful novelist of all time - she realised this and gave readers what they wanted - more of the same old Poirot solving more of the same old upper middle-class murders. Margery Allingham, in her Campion series, never resorted to this formulaic approach, being endlessly inventive and allowing her hero to develop emotionally, intellectually, and philosophically. Developing beyond the simple crime novel, Allingham alienated some of her fan-base and, because fashion plays a large part in book sales, failed to attract new readers. In "The Mind Readers", she successfully mingles a strong science fiction element, spy thriller and a little philosophy, with her usual crime and humour. Very well researched and, in its time, scientifically avant-garde, this book reintroduces Thos T Knapp - now the boss of his own company and building on his prior telephonic expertise to provide state-of-the-art bugging and surveillance services. Readers will remember Thos from Mystery Mile and, in a lesser role, in at least two other Campion novels. Other old friends include Luke, Amanda, Lugg, and Canon Avril (nearly murdered in The Tiger in the Smoke).
Someone discovers that a particular transistor, applied to the jugular area, can amplify the thoughts and emotions of others in such a way that they can be received as a form of ESP. However, the device works best in young children, old enough to understand what is going on, but with relatively uncluttered minds. An 8-year old relative of Amanda'a, and his 12-year old friend and son of a government scientist, have somehow got hold of two of the devices and know how to use them. Allingham's description of how such a thing would affect different people is stunning and, until you think about it, very funny, particularly when Canon Avril and Charles Luke have a go. From this promising start Allingham weaves a very complicated tale involving multi-national skull-duggery, murder, a highly secret government research station, and even includes another highly creepy killer - this time a professional spy.
One reviewer refers to earlier "naive times" when science was thought to be the future. This book isn't in the least like that; in many ways it is very sceptical about science, as indeed is science itself - isn't that what the word implies? Anyway, if the future does not lie with science, we are lost. The alternative is public ignorance combined with self-interest, short-term greed, and superstition. An excellent, thought-provoking novel - what an utter tragedy that Allingham died so relatively young. Who knows where this experiment would have taken Campion!