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on 20 December 2008
Super book and a well-crafted Margery Allingham, although there are some bits that don't come together well (or make sense), such as where Albert Campion meets his old friend Stanislaus at the very start of the book at an out of the way, little known rendezvous point purely by accident. All very contrived -this introduction to the story could have been done a lot more concisely and in a much more interesting way.
All said, it's a great story, and the reason why I like it is because it's quite a tense and in places claustrophobic rendition of a family imploding based on years of tension, dislike and plain hostility towards one another. We get a picture of the results of that "poison" all coming out in the wash and it makes for an exciting read.
I did start to guess what was going on towards the end of the book, but it was still not clear how the murderer had done it, so it was still very worthwhile reading to the end to find out. In fact, I was waiting for some more deaths to occur since the culprit seemed to have planned quite far ahead and with some ingenuity! But then Allingham didn't really write stories about mass-murderers, so it was probably best she stopped there!
About Campion - Margery Allingham has again written all the way through this book that Campion comes across as vacant, slightly imbecilic and perhaps a touch daft to other characters in the story, but I have to say he comes across as anything but to me. In fact, he's one of the more interesting and on-the-ball detectives from classic detective story fiction and his switched-on attitude means he doesn't really ever disappoint; even if his friends get annoyed with him not disclosing his secret knowledge to them (I'm referring here to the fact that Stanislaus gives Campion the cold shoulder for a couple of days in this story when he can't work out what Campion is obscurely hinting at).
Give this book a go - I'm sure you'll like it, and remember - be very careful to be nice to the rest of your family, particularly if they live with you...
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on 12 June 2012
The sprawling house of a long-dead Master of a Cambridge college, inhabited by a bevy of servants and three generations of his family; the whole run for decades with ruthless precision by his now 84-year-old widow. It seems that someone, probably within the family, is determined to kill them off, one by one. Enter Campion, a friend of the family's solicitor, to solve the mystery before too much damage is done.

The matriarch runs the house to a strict timetable and code of behaviour, firmly set in the late 1800's, although the current date is the late 1920's! For example, she trundles off to church in a horse-drawn carriage, the house has no phone, and the decor, although maintained, has remained unchanged for decades. All the live-in relatives, with one exception - the fiancee of the solicitor - are financial inadequates totally dependent on the matriarch for survival, even though they are mostly well past fifty years old. Allingham portrays this bizarre scenario with unerring skill - you "see" the house, you sense and respond to the petty jealousies and hatreds that bubble beneath the surface and, with a little understanding of what life was like in that elite sector of society between the wars - you accept and believe in it. In short, you become part of the household.

If you find it difficult to believe that such a household could exist in the late 1920's, let me tell you that I was born in 1946 and I met two women very similar to the matriarch, in large houses with dependent relatives, in the 1950s. That sort of thing didn't really die out until the 1960's. Some complain that the ending of this novel is an anti-climax. However, it is fairly clear two-thirds of the way through that only one person could have killed the first victim. I found the explanation totally adequate and believable, as is the disclosure of the family "scandal". To a family, apparently of lesser nobility, whose attitudes were rooted in 1890, it would have been hugely important to suppress such a story. Indeed, it would still be an issue with some today!

This book is a wonderful read at many levels. It contains a wonderfully evocative vignette describing the Holborn area in the late 1920's. But the description of the house in Cambridge, and the family within, is the real reason you enjoy the story. The characters are often utterly nuts, but mostly strangely sympathetic. The crimes give the plot great pace and add to the tension created by the discord in the house. But, as is common with subsequent Allingham novels of the same calibre, you close the book with a feeling of regret - sensing that you will never know the characters again - but wanting to know what happened to them.

SPOILER ALERT. Finally, the matter of Allingham copying the method of the first killing from a very late Sherlock Holmes short story (published in book form only 9 years before this novel). It seems to me that Allingham freely acknowledges this when she describes that the method of removing the gun was originally by tying it to a brick, which would carry it into the river when the gun was let go - the method used by Doyle. But, Allingham's killer abandons the brick in favour of the clock weight, a more efficient mechanism. This is a joke, implying that Allingham's use of the method is generally an improvement on Doyle's - which indeed it is. Allingham loved a joke, it's one of the things that makes her books so readable.
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on 20 March 2016
As one of Margery Allingham's many Golden Age detective fiction stories, this is one of her best. The characters are lively and well-portrayed without a trace of cardboard about the place. Campion is his usual inscrutable self: "Why it's obvious to the whole world that one of you did it and I am in the happy position of knowing which one" Of course you are, Albert! And we wouldn't have it otherwise. It is trying to get there first which makes it such good fun (and in this case nearly impossible - actually impossible in my case!). A most enjoyable read and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys Golden Age mysteries.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2010
The plot in this type of novel doesn't have to be plausible it just has to be reasonably well tied together. And in that Allingham is successful. One key aspect of the plot owes a clear debt to a Sherlock Holmes short story (I won't give it away by telling you which one), but if one is going to steal then it might as well be from the best. For me the coincidences were explained away satisfactorily. After all if there were no coincidences there would be no fiction.

The book is saved from being dated paradoxically because the house in which the action takes place has been allowed to remain fixed in the late Victorian era even into the 1930s in which the mystery is set; it has no telephone for example and still keeps a horse drawn carriage. The exception to this is the 'family secret' which is unpleasant not for what it is, but for the way that the so called 'shame' is described. Autre temps, autre moeurs.
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The thing about Albert Campion is that you're never one hundred percent sure which side he's on. Unlike Peter Wimsey who will hand pretty much any murderer over - even if it's his own brother (although of course he hopes it's not) - Campion always gives the impression that he's dancing to his own tune. He might hand the murderer over to Oates. He might not. And that's part of what makes these so much fun.

Anyway, this time Campion is looking into the death of a member of a *very* dysfunctional but distinguished (in their eyes at least) Cambridge family, on behalf of the family, but also in co-operation (sometimes) with Oates (who's just been promoted). No (or very little) Lugg in this, but you've got a full cast of grotesques without him. The body count mounts, there's an obvious suspect, but who is actually responsible? It's well worth reading to find out.

NB My copy came via the Allingham Estate, in return for an honest review - but I started reading the series 7+ years ago when I was living in Essex where the libraries used to keep copies as Allingham was a local author.
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on 1 October 2012
I've never read a Margey Allingham before, but having finally taken the plunge I have to say that I'm hugely impressed. She's of course one of the Grande Dames of English detective fiction, but she is a much better writer than either Dorothy L. Sayers or Agatha Christie (though it wouldn't be hard to be a more skilled prose stylist than Dame Agatha). Interestingly she seems to realise there's something faintly absurd about the notion of an aristocratic detective (according to my good friend Wikipedia, Albert Campion was created as a spoof of Lord Peter Wimsey), and there is almost a protean quality to her version - a bland man who hides behind his glasses and isn't even comfortable using his real name. Not that he isn't a strong presence at the centre of the book, the reader is never allowed to forget that behind his vague expression is the sharpest mind in the room.

A series of murders are committed amongst an old aristocratic family, which is ruled by an intimidating matriarch of the old school. Campion is called into help the investigation (an aristocrat investigating aristocratic murder always seems more likely to be successful, the family opens up in the way they never would with a common policeman). There are red herrings, other attacks in the night, huge footprints left in the garden and a conclusion which is satisfyingly impossible to guess - if more than somewhat absurd.

What really pleased me though was her style, breezy and smart with a good line in humour. This is a book to enjoy not only for the mechanics of the mystery but for the prose as well. As such I look forward to the other Campion novels in 2011.
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on 21 April 2011
Another outing for Albert Campion, this time he's called to an old Cambridge house where the formidable Great Aunt Caroline rules over her children, nephews and nieces. The residents of the house all loathe each other so when the body of Uncle Andrew is found dead in the river there are no shortage of suspects. Well, until the other occupants of the house also start to die in mysterious circumstances.

The only thing that prevented this book being a four star read for me was the explanation behind the killings. I know murder mysteries of this era aren't generally known for their realism, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to accept the ending. Otherwise an enjoyable book but I came away feeling disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2016
First impressions count and this affected my appreciation of Campion's fourth outing. There is a contrived, almost ludicrous, co-incidental meeting between four of the protagonists in a London 'Square' about the size of a ping-pong table.

Faced with murder amongst the upper classes, Campion fits in as a 'professional adventurer'. He is the 'right sort' to investigate. Very tightly plotted in a Cambridge semi-stately home, an environment in which Ms Allingham is clearly comfortable. I found the prose dense and, horror of horrors, occasionally dreary. There are a few references to earlier books in the series but it does hold up as a stand alone novel.
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on 27 May 2011
The plot is unlikely, even preposterous; the ending is disappointing; and the writing and dialogue is stilted, hampered by the time-warp in the family home, with an 1890's lifestyle still being followed in the 1930's.
And yet........ I enjoyed reading this book and found it difficult to put down!
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on 20 January 2010
First class listening, perfectly packaged so
a lot easier to handle than most CDs as each indivitual
CD has its own cardboard insert...much easier than having
to break a plastic box to try and get at a second CD!!
Well read by 'Philip Franks' who's voice suits the 'Campion Novels'
perfectly and, of course, well written as all 'Margery Allingham'
books are.
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