Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke (1952)

It might come to you as a shock, but there is actually something better than a reading tip given by a favorite lit-blogger: a reading tip given by one of your favorite authors, even more so when she happens to be a master of the genre. It all started when I read P.D. James’ Original Sin: 

Sipping her whisky, Blackie reflected that there was something strangely reassuring about Joan’s uninhibited interested in and speculation about the crime. Not for nothing were there those five shelves of crime paperbacks in her bedroom, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey and the few modern writers whom Joan considered fit to join those Golden Age practitioners in fictional murder. After all, why should Joan feel a personal grief? […] And as she cogitated, the horror of Innocent House began to seem unreal, unfrightening, an elegant literary concoction, without grief, without pain, without loss, the guilt and horror disinfected and reduced to an ingenious puzzle. She stared into the leaping flames from which the image of Miss Marple seemed to rise, handbag protectively clutched to her bosom, the gentle wise old eyes gazing into hers, assuring her that there was nothing to be afraid of, that everything would be all right. 

I’ve read most of Christie’s mysteries, tried my hand without much success with Dorothy Sayers, but there I had a list of “approved” authors all unknown to me! I too needed a story where everything would be all right, at least to alleviate (i.e. forget) my bouts of morning sickness (which never happens in the morning, who the hell named it that way… oops, sorry about the interruption).

I wanted something comfy and nice — there’s a good reason why one of the mystery subgenres is called a cozy. That’s how I came to track down an old copy of a Margery Allingham mystery at my local library (it must have remained on shelves for ages just waiting for me). Allingham was famous from the 1930s to the 1960s, with a returning detective hero called Albert Campion. 

The Tiger in the Smoke is actually more of a thriller than a whodunit. A woman close to be married is contacted by someone claiming to be her first husband, presumed dead during the war. A serial killer is on the prowl through the foggy, desolate streets of post-war London. War is still very much present in the novel, as people are reminded of lost ones, and everybody seemed pretty much destitute or food-deprived. Although there were a lot of characters, it definitely had a good pace and a nice study of personality. Albert Campion stays in the background for the most part, and a notable character is canon Avril (a relative to Campion). The confrontation between the pious man and the heartless serial killer is something to remember.

Unfortunately there are no other Allingham left available at our library, but I’ll probably try Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh, in order to discover lost mystery masters. Any other suggestion?


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