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Golden Age Author Margery Allingham

This week, Brook and Sarah take a deep dive into the life and writing of Golden Age author and “queen of crime” Margery Allingham.


The Crime at Black Dudley (1929) Margery Allingham

Blackerchief Dick (1923) Margery Allingham

Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists (2000) Martha Hailey DuBose

Golden Age of Murder (2015) Martin Edwards

Traitor’s Purse (1940) Margery Allingham

Sweet Danger (1933) Margery Allingham

Mystery Mile (1930) Margery Allingham

Death of a Ghost (1934) Margery Allingham

The Oaken Heart (1941) Margery Allingham

Campion (1989-1990) BBC

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. Are you ready to talk about another Golden Age author today?
SarahI am and I’m very excited to talk about Marjorie Allingham.
BrookYes, I am too. And I can’t wait for you to tell us all about her and her background.
SarahOkay, so I will start with that. Considered one of the golden age’s four queens of crime along with Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie, Marjorie Louise Allingham was born May 6, 1904. Her sleuth, Albert Campion, first appeared in her third novel in 1929, and it was titled The Crime at Black Dudley though he was really just a side character. He would go on to feature in 19 of her novels and several of her short stories.
SarahInspired by her parents who were both writers, and her aunt, who was an editor and founder of magazines that Marjorie later wrote for, Allingham wrote from a young age and in her teens began submitting her work to publishers. She wrote her first novel, which was a supernatural tale, while on holiday with her parents. The Blackerchief Dick was published in 1923 though later in life she would buy any copies she found to prevent others from getting them. She married Philip or “Pip” Youngman Carter in 1928. Carter had a large social circle and while they lived in London, they entertained frequent gatherings of what was referred to as “The Gang”. The couple did not have children but hosted what seemed like a nearly continuous stream of visitors. One house guest, a friend of her husband, lived with the couple for thirteen years pip was an artist though according to Martha Hailey DuBose in her book Women of Mystery.
SarahHe spent considerably more time socializing than creating in the early years of their marriage Martin Edwards however suggests in the golden age of murder that pip’s contributions are underrepresented. He drew the illustrations that appeared on the dust jackets of his wife’s books as well as other golden age authors. And her private papers indicate that the 2 of them collaborated at least on her first novel featuring Albert Campion the couple purchased a large house in the couple purchased a large house in the Essex village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy in 1934. it was previously the home of an elderly friend of Allingham’s mother who was disappointed when she wasn’t left the house when the friend died. Her fondness for the house probably made it easier when she moved in with her daughter following the death of Marjorie’s father. Marjorie’s aunt and sister also joined the household, which Marjorie supported through her writing also in 1934 she joined the detection club during a ceremony that was broadcast internationally by BBC Radio according to her private notes. She was uncomfortable and intimidated by the other attendees throughout the event the second world war marked a turning part the second world war marked a turning point for Allingham Pip was successful as an officer in North Africa and she became involved in the home front and opened their house and participated in the local community something she had previously avoided after the war pip lived in London where he was increasingly open about his infidelity.
SarahHe wrote and edited for magazines while she continued to write and live in Essex. Despite her success, money was a near constant worry which isn’t surprising given that she funded Pip’s lavish lifestyle even after he was earning money. Her tax issues came to a head during the war and her frustration about this features in at least one of her novels Allingham suffered from undiagnosed health problems that affected her throughout her life her underactive thyroid left her overweight which is something that made her self-conscious. She was also considered to be prone to violent mood swings. But they were the results of her being bipolar a diagnosis. She only received shortly before she died and I suspect that if both conditions had been managed appropriately. She would have been a much happier person. She died in 1966 of breast cancer during the last few years of her life she seemed to reconcile with her husband. And after she died he finished her final campion novel and wrote two of his own leaving a third unfinished. We sorry leaving a third unfinished when he died it was finished by Mike Ripley in 2014 with the support of Allingham’s estate and Ripley has gone on to write eight more. I’m thrilled to share, Brook that he will be joining us in a future episode to discuss Marjorie Allingham and Albert Campion
BrookThank you, Sarah. Yes, that is fantastic news and we’ll be looking forward to that episode so very much. Sarah in your research did you find out anything about how Allingham like what her writing process was?
SarahYeah, so there was ah a reference to her early novels that I think she described as being ah like making a pudding and I think that means she just kind of threw everything and into the bowl and saw what what came out. But I think as she matured as a writer she did kind of her writing process matured as well.
BrookI think that you can really tell that she comes in my opinion that she comes from a family of writers when you read her work because she’s very eloquent. Her descriptions are very clear and um, really charming like I. Really enjoyed ah the way that she would you know describe something or use metaphors and similes I thought that her writing was was really um, but stored I want to use you could tell that she was an educated person in the. In the art of writing.
SarahI definitely agree. And one of my favorite lines that I came across while reading her to prepare for this comes from um the Traitor’s Purse and the line it made me laugh. She goes. “It seemed that the great starry arc of the sky above him reeled over and back like the lid of a bacon dish.” Yeah.
BrookAh, there are so many of those there are so many I had I would have highlighted gobs if I had been reading a physical book but I was doing an audio book but 1 that I wrote down was “He had a curious bird-like voice the likeness was enhanced by his habit of speaking in little staccato sentences and holding his head slightly to one side.”
SarahIt’s so it’s so descriptive, right? And you can immediately picture exactly what she was intending So what? Um, what of her works did you read or listen to?
BrookSo I decided to pick something that was kind of in the middle of her of her works and so I picked Sweet Danger. It falls a little bit to the beginning. It’s in 1933 is when she published that one. I will say it is still ranked just 113 in the mystery and crime books on Amazon so this book is still being widely read. Um, but this is a treasure hunt sort of story and, you know there’s issues of inheritance and ownership and old documents and it was a really great choice for me. Um, it actually reminded me a lot of what I love about Robert Goddard, who we talked about in a recent episode that kind of piecing together the past to um, you know to solve a problem. There wasn’t necessarily a murder mystery in this one.
SarahWell and and so there’s a couple of things that I noticed about her, both in my research and in the things that I read. Um, so the first is Campion, her sleuth, he’s not always a sleuth right? He in the beginning. Um, it’s kind of fuzzy what his what his you know position is. And I think he’s described as, you know, perhaps being a member of the Royal family a disgraced member or maybe his so branch of the family has been disgraced from the Royal family but he’s he’s certainly got some connections. Um, and as the books progress, he progresses in his life. So unlike Poirot, who just is always this retired Belgian detective. Um, we see Campion get married and and he kind of grows as a person I think um, and yeah, some of his books he’s more of a detective. He’s kind of working with the police. And some are like you said it’s more of an adventure.
SarahOne of the books that I read was Mystery Mile which was the second book that Campion appears in and it’s kind of this like wild adventure that he takes people on. Yeah, but then in Death of a Ghost, which was published ah a little deeper into the series in 1934, it’s more of a murder mystery and so there’s like a lot of variety in terms of um just even that particular character in the books that he’s featured in.
BrookYeah, I think that’s very unique, not that um she would write different kinds of mysteries because we’ve noticed that in other other authors of her era but that she used the same character in these different. Types of mysteries and yeah I um, also discovered that people said that she’s not nearly as repetitive. You know there’s really no formula to her stories. You’re going to get maybe something different each time and that includes as you said that the sleuth adapted very much over the years so in sweet danger which was the the novel that I read that is the story where he meets Amanda um, and it’s her family that he is solving the mystery for and I really liked the ending of this Amanda really saves the day she saves his life at the end. And then asks him to promise her to when she gets a little older that they can be partners and then as you said later, that’s who he marries he marries this character Amanda it’s it’s a really interesting way that she sprinkled their relationship over I think three or four different books and then they finally marry and have a son.
SarahYeah, and so I’m um I haven’t finished yet reading Traitor’s Purse but in that one it opens with him kind of recovering from having lost consciousness and lost his memory and he doesn’t he has to figure out who these various people are. And he sees Amanda and he thinks he’s he thinks he might know her but he’s not entirely sure. It’s it’s so there’s there’s a lot going on in that um in that particular book.
BrookHow fun That’s an interesting way to keep the will they won’t they of a romance going is one of them doesn’t even remember the other one. How cute.
SarahYeah, yeah.
BrookSo what did you think about albert campion as the sleuth?
SarahI think because he seems to be different in each book that I’ve read so it’s really hard to kind of peg him as anything in particular. Him as a sleuth. He was very different from characters that Christie or Ngaio Marsh or sayers or any of the other Golden Age authors like created right because he was kind of different in each certainly in the books that I read.
BrookYeah, that makes sense I don’t have a big enough experience I think to really form an opinion but I will say that I was struck by the fact that she doesn’t necessarily make him this like larger than life hero. You know he’s not perfect. He’s not exceedingly handsome or you know, incredibly smart. He’s kind of an every man and I’m not sure if that carries over into all the other titles. But um I liked that. I know that he has been compared a lot to Lord Peter Whimsy um but to me they are quite different.
SarahHe didn’t feel the same that Whimsey feels.
SarahI didn’t mention it in the introduction but Allingham wrote several other pieces as well. Several other books. She did write a nonfiction account of her community coming together during World War II and that’s called Oaken Heart, and she wrote several plays. She wrote a few romantic thrillers under a pen name Maxwell Marsh and those were in the 1930s um. And, generally I think her writing is considered to explore some darker themes than those that are associated with the golden age.
BrookYeah, and I also read that um in order to like as you said she was the breadwinner, not only for her household but actually she supported many people, and that she did do other writing in the serials under a pen name much like her journalist dad and ah other members of her family. So thinking about how lovely her writing is I can only imagine how good that book is and how meaningful that can be to you know and to learn about that part of our history.
BrookSo, Sarah has any of um, her work been adapted for screen?
SarahYeah, so not a lot of it. Ah, there was a there were screen adaptations of two of her novels in 1959 and 1960 and I think those might have been the only screen adaptations that she would have um seen before she died. Thirty years later BBC adapted the first eight novels over two seasons under the name Campion. Um, and those are available on BritBox. I’ve I’ve watched a couple of those.
SarahAnd I believe there have also been some radio you know radio play adaptations. But ah, there really hasn’t I you know you think about Christie and there’s been so many adaptations of her work. There just hasn’t been at a ton of Allingham’s work.
BrookBut it’s interesting that the estate is still interested in continuing the series I mean as you said, um, we will have Mike Ripley on later to talk about his continuation of the stories and that’s vastly different from somebody say like Dorothy Sayers.
SarahI think it’s really fascinating that her husband initially continued her stories right? So when she died there was an unfinished manuscript he finished it off and then I think he wrote two or three additional Campion novels before he died. And then and when he died he’d left an unfinished novel that Mike Ripley finished and then he’s gone on to write some that are entirely his own work. Ah so I think I think that that’s a really interesting trajectory.
BrookAbsolutely. It’s fascinating and I think it really gives credence to the fact that her husband Pip was actually very involved in her at least for periods of their lives involved in her writing um because not just anyone would be able to pick up. And continue the story. So definitely was probably like helping her plot some of her other stories or you know talking about ah characters and things. So um, yeah, that is just fascinating isn’t it.
SarahI I have to say that of the Golden Age Queens of Crime. She’s the one that I knew the least about you know Agatha Christie obviously taking first place and Marjorie Allingham is just not I you know you said that her books are still in kind of that top one hundred top two hundred um but I don’t hear anybody really talking about her.
BrookI would agree. It’s and especially and once again that because the series is continuing to be written. It’s very interesting that some of these names of these people who are wildly popular in their era have have dropped out of vogue and I’m just happy that you and I Sarah can talk about them and maybe bring them back to the mystery lovers ah tbr lists.
BrookWell, Sarah thank you for such a lovely summary of Marjorie Allingham and we will look forward to our next it and we will look forward to part two coming very soon.
SarahThanks, Brook.
BrookAnd thank you everyone for listening today to Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.