Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (1930)

Reading is usually what I do when I need a diversion. But, whether due to lack of concentration, angst, or downright panic, reading has been impossible these days. The up side is that it gives me the chance to go back and try to catch up on book reviews that I haven’t written. So, for better or worse, I hereby launch Retroactive Reviews. Here’s hoping there won’t be too many. 

There have been four recent attempts on the life of Judge Crowdy Lobbett. Now, traveling on board the SS Elephantine in route to England, he narrowly escapes a fifth. While the Judge has volunteered to be a magician’s assistant in a disappearance trick, an affable, if somewhat foolish-seeming fellow passenger insists that his pet mouse must be first, which is unfortunate for the mouse. Fortunately for the Judge, the affable young man turns out to be Albert Campion, who may be the best hope for keeping him alive. His plan, send the Lobbetts to a remote village on the Suffolk coast where they will stay at Mystery Mile, the home of his friends Giles and Biddy Paget.

This was only my third Allingham (since I read The Tiger in the Smoke so long ago I can’t really count it), but I’m thinking that, if I do continue reading her books, she and I are going to have a rocky relationship. Let me start by saying that it’s not Campion that’s the problem so far. I loved the way Allingham introduced him into the story—minus points for the mouse that is. With his daft behavior and silly banter, the character falls into the “silly ass detective” category I often find slightly irritating. But it’s apparent that this is a façade, a creation of this individual, known as Campion, to hide behind, and that he is truly a more complex and engaging character. 

So, what’s my issue? It really wasn’t until I read Ben’s review of Death of a Ghost over at The Green Capsule, that I realized what was bothering me about this. There’s no real mystery here to solve. Ok, yes there is a villain, and there is death, kidnapping, and disappearances. But there are no clues for the reader follow, and no red herrings to divert. What the story boils down to is merely a situation that must be managed, as only Campion can. In reality it’s more of an adventure, or a caper, or a thriller—take your pick—but it is not a mystery.

But even more than that is that, after what really was an enjoyable opening, the story became broke down, became very disjointed, and (IMO) over-encumbered with plot points that sends it off in too many directions. A mysterious fortune teller just happens to drive up to the house. Soon after that, the kindly village rector commits suicide, and leaves a number of strange bequests that are actually clues, with no way for the reader to interpret them. Then, the Judge disappears, an art dealer shows up to look at a painting, Biddy is kidnapped, the scene shifts to London and a house filled with a gang of villains, love interests are revealed, and always in the background is some criminal mastermind named Simister. 

I’d have to say that MM was very much a confused muddle for me. So much so that I didn’t entirely enjoy it. It lands more in the Meh category. And, with regard to continuing to read Allingham…we’ll see how the relationship develops.

Prior Rulings – Dead Yesterday

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2015 Bingo – Free Space: Read one book set in the U.S. or England

3 thoughts on “Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (1930)

  1. Anonymous

    I read Mystery Mile last year and loved it. I had never read anything by Allingham previously. I think I was put off by her name. Just kind of too “precious”. There’s a lot of good reading from the Golden Age and not so much time to devote to it.. So many books and so little time, especially at my age. But I will re-read Mystery Mile next week. It was more in the vein of Gladys Mitchell than some of Allingham;s other books. I’m glad I have a copy to access.

  2. Mystery Mile is one of Allingham’s amiable but minor thrillers. Tiger in the Smoke is a thriller cum crime novel.

    If you’re after an authentic detective story, I’d suggest:

    Police at the Funeral (family murders in Cambridge)
    Flowers for the Judge (publishing)
    The Case of the Late Pig (a novella narrated by Campion himself – Wodehousian village, with a clever method)
    Dancers in Mourning (theatre)
    The Fashion in Shrouds (high society)
    Black Plumes (art gallery)
    More Work for the Undertaker (more family murders)
    The China Governess (another eccentric family, this time more downbeat)

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