Over the past few months at Rushforth Media, our producers have been busy producing Margery Allingham’s ‘Campion Mysteries’ novels, a series of detective-thriller novels which she wrote before 1929 right up to the year in which she passed away, 1966. To be perfectly honest, not many of us had actually heard of Allingham or of her work. And yet, after having just finished reading and recording the main core of her work, it is surprising to us that she is not more well known. Indeed, if you were to look at the various blurbs and quotes which appear on the back covers of her many novels, you may well think this yourself. For example, even Agatha Christie, her infinitely more famous contemporary, had nothing but good things to say about her, going so far as to say that she “stands out like a shining star” and that “Allingham is the best of mystery writers.”
However, whilst she may be somewhat forgotten now, she experienced great acclaim and popularity during her lifetime. Her first major breakthrough was in 1929, after she published ‘The Crime at Black Dudley’, the first of her many ‘Campion Mysteries’. Well, we say its the first instalment, but in actuality the character of Albert Campion played a relatively minor role in this particular novel. He proved so popular, however, especially among Allingham’s American readers, that she made him the hero of another 17 novels and 20 short stories.
A bumbly, upper-class character, Campion initially seems to be a rather foolish and hopeless character. But we soon learn that there is a cunning intelligence behind his iconic horn-rimmed spectacles, and that there is more to meet the eye. There are many qualities to Campion and we discover something new about him in each book, a sign of Allingham’s development as a writer. He isn’t actually a detective, but because of his many connections with both the upper and lower classes and also the police, he stumbles into each case and pursues it to the end. He grows older and wiser with each book, falls in love, shows both strengths and vulnerabilities… and yet, by the end we never really know who he is. Indeed, we don’t actually know if his name really is Campion – there is always the hint that that is his assumed name, which lends this unlikely character a persistent sense of mystery.
As Allingham developed this curious protagonist with each novel, her books in turn took on different styles and formats. From entertaining manor house whodunits such as The Crime at Black Dudley, to more character-based novels such as The Tiger in the Smoke, to the outlandish, almost futuristic plot of her last novel The Mind Readers, Allingham proved herself to be a versatile writer within a genre that is often seen as repetitious and familiar. So, if you’re a fan of 20th century British crime literature and you need an alternative to the likes of Poirot and Miss Marple, then we recommend that you head over to Audible and download the ‘Campion Mysteries’ series by Margery Allingham – the forgotten Agatha Christie.