Thursday, May 10, 2018

HIDE MY EYES – Margery Allingham

The advent of electronic books came along in the nick of time for me, as I was running out of original ways to complain in the Amazon "customer review" fora about such annoyances as faulty packaging, unpleasant odors, and tardy deliveries, and then to come up with clever rebuttals of other "customer reviewers" chastising me for "missing the point of the 'customer review'" by complaining about "trivia" other than the merits of the writing. It was getting downright exhausting, let me tell you!
I soon had to abandon my penchant for self-righteous pecksniffery after ebooks forced me to shift my focus to poor formatting, a topic which got old real fast, and evidently annoyed Amazon’s curating bots to the extent they got on my case rather hurtfully. And so, gentle readers, I arrived at the much trickier threshold of trying to find things about the writing itself to scoff at. Not so easy to do when your shallow outlook has kept your critical faculties bound like the feet of young Chinese girls once upon a time.

So comes now my review of Hide My Eyes, which I did enjoy but felt a familiar tingle when I sat down to type this report. The tingle tempted me to regress to my old penchant for scoffing. You see, Hide My Eyes is purported to be one in a series of thirty, as it is labeled,
“an Albert Campion mystery.” First, let my old self speak
: Mystery? BWAHAHAHA… there is no mystery. We know whodunnit and howdunnit and even whydunnit. Where’s the mystery? Unless Albert Campion himself is the mystery. He’s barely more than a name and a very occasional voice. He’s supposedly a private dick, but doesn’t bruise even a pinky in this 1958 novel, isn’t hampered by so much as a hangnail! He mainly hangs out with his favorite cops and offers snippets of ideas now and again. At the same time--I really hate to admit this--I found his mere presence vaguely comforting in the grand scheme of things. Yet, he’s still something of a mystery. So much so I did a little Googling, and came up with this essay by British blogger Nick Campbell, who describes Campion as...well, something of a mystery. Here’s how his creator, Margery Allingham, introduces him in Hide My Eyes:

Mr. Campion was a tall thin man in his early fifties, with fair hair, a pale face and large spectacles, who had cultivated the gentle art of unobtrusiveness until even his worst enemies were apt to overlook him until it was too late. He was known to a great many people but few were absolutely certain about what it was he actually did with his life. In his youth he had often been described as 'the young man come about the trouble', and nowadays he was liable to mention deferentially that he feared he was becoming 'the old one come with it', but now, as then, he was careful never to permit his status to be too accurately defined.
It was certainly true that he had a private practice but also a fact that he and the present Assistant Commissioner, Crime, Mr. Stanislaus Oates, had been hunting companions in the days when Oates was an Inspector C.I.D. Since then Yeo, who was following Oates's footsteps, and many other eminent senior men in the service were content to consider him a friend, an expert witness and, at times, a very valuable guide into little known territory.”
He’s an asset to the reader, in fact, as a blessed contrast to the incessantly chattering cops, who all strike me as Inspector Clouseau understudies, never agreeing with each other very much or even with themselves, swinging back and forth from one notion to another. It’s a wonder, without the rare, quiet nudging of the astoundingly observant Campion, they could catch any wrongdoer, except perhaps those who turn themselves in and write their own confessions. (I cannot deny exaggerating a smidgeon here—a carryover from old habits, I suspect).
I came to this novel surfng on the enthusiasm of two crime-blogging friends Yvette Banek, of North Carolina, and the ever mysterious Tracy, of California.
And—the Amazon bots will be shocked to see this—I enjoyed Hide My Eyes immensely! If only for the writing alone. Here’s the opening to chapter three, following the delightfully atmospheric first murder by the serial killer we come to know almost as well as we do Mr. Campion, and the second chapter when we meet the chattering cops, and, of course get our first glimpse of Mr. Campion: “Sunlight, yellow and crystal in the mist, glowed through the wet black branches of the plane trees while the fallen cream-coloured leaves made a fine carpet hiding the bald patches, the cigarette cartons and the 'bus tickets which in the ordinary way disfigured the discouraged grass.” What a sentence, huh? We continue, “A narrow concrete path ran round the green like a ribbon round a hat. At the furthest loop was a single wooden seat and upon it sat a girl.
Margery Allingham
 “She was not very tall but curved as a kitten, and was clad in an elegant tweed coat with matching tan shoes and gloves. At her feet was a small canvas traveling bag.”
If nothing else, I wanted to learn more about the girl. I did. She’s delightful.
Then there’s the serial killer, another mystery man who goes by various aliases and is most reliably described as “The man in the trench coat.” We learn more about him from him, than from anyone else. This, for example:
“I spotted the plain mechanical truth of it as a child. You could almost call it the Chad-Horder discovery. Any kind of affection is a solvent. It melts and adulterates the subject and by indulging it he loses his identity and hence his efficiency. By keeping myself to myself in the face of every conceivable attack I have remained successful, bright and indestructible. It's a simple recipe for a hundred per cent success. I hand it to you gratis, Richard. Consider it a token of my esteem.”
Nice guy, some might think at first blush. In fact several women find him irresistible. The classic sociopath. Ted Bundy. Murderer of innocents. Lordy but we want to see it come to him, his comeuppance. We want to see him squashed like the bug he is. But we mustn’t forget, this is what is known as a “cozy” crime novel, as opposed to “hardboiled.” This does not mean “sissy” novel that cannot be enjoyed by the discriminating manly man. There’s even a good bout of bare-knuckle fisticuffs near the end.
And...oh, hell, I might as well break down and admit it: Margery Allingham was one fine smart writer. Especially with her plotting. Definitely not plodding, ha ha, despite the chattering cops. I cannot use the cliché “page turner,” as I read Hide My Eyes on my laptop’s Kindle app. Page clicker, maybe? Pulled me right along, anyway—had me running to keep up. 

 


[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]



16 comments:

  1. I’ve read quite a few books by Allingham, Traitor's Purse is a favorite, but not this one. I’ll have to see if I have it on the shelf.

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    1. This was my intro to Allingham, Rick. Blew my socks off!

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  2. A terrific book. I'm so glad you liked it, Mathew. So you 'surfed on my enthusiasm'? Good a way to meet the elusive Mr. Campion as any. :) I'm very carefully going through the Allingham books, avoiding the early ones which I understand are mighty different and too much Campion and Lugg, a duo I'm not all that fond of. Hard to explain.

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  3. I too loved TRAITOR'S PURSE, Rick. Quite fabulous.

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    1. Looks like Traitor's Purse it is, you guys!

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    2. You'll love it, Mathew. :)

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  4. I am a huge fan of Margery Allingham and her writing.I enjoyed this article...

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

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  5. About twenty years ago I went on an Allingham kick and read as many of her books as I could find, enjoying them all and watching Albert Campion grow (change might be a better word) from a light-hearted rogue to a mature and thoughtful detective. In those earlier books, Campion was hinted to be the black sheep member of the royal family. Allingham came from a literary family and published her first novel at 19 and had been a published author since she was 8! Much of her journeyman work was published anonymously, much of which was novelizing popular films for British periodicals. After her all to early death, Campion was carried on by her husband, Philip Youngman-Carter; after his death, the Campion saga has been continued by the very capable Mike Ripley.

    My personal favorite Campions are TIGER IN THE SMOKE and LOOK TO THE LADY (aka THE GYRTH CHALICE MYSTERY).

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Jerry. It sounds from your comment as if Campion started out as a sort of Archie Goodwin type and ended up as more of an ambulatory, genial Nero Wolfe (yeah, I'm a Stout fan). Allingham developed into a truly fine writer.

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    2. Think more of an early Simon Templar crossed with The Scarlet Pimpernel rather than Archie, Matt.

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    3. Have not read either, Jerry. I remember a Simon Templar TV show years ago, but don't remember the character. Didn't the show's promotion feature a drawing of Templar with a halo over his head, or had my mother fed us the bad mushrooms that day?

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    4. I loved TIGER IN THE SMOKE, Jerry - all but the very abrupt ending. At first I thought some pages were missing. But still and all, a terrific book.

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  6. I do love Margery Allingham's books, at least the Albert Campion series. I am sure I read this book sometime but it has been a long time so I will read it again someday. I had just been thinking that it has been a while since I re-read an Albert Campion book. My next one up is Traitor's Purse.

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    1. You and Yvette. Guess I'd better do Traitor's Purse next!

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    2. There! I just downloaded it.

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