This novel is billed as vintage classic crime. Published first in 1929, Mystery Mile is the second in Margery Allingham‘s Albert Campion private detective series. Set in about the same time period as Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Campion starts out on an Atlantic crossing from New York to Dover on an ocean liner called the Elephantine, where an attempt is made on the life of Judge Crowdy Lobbett, retired. This is not the first attempt to eliminate the judge; there were several incidents in New York where those close to the judge were actually killed. Campion has a certain mystery about himself: he seems to have many aliases, and when you ring his number, the call is answered with, “Aphrodite Glue Works”. Like Sherlock Holmes, he has an upstairs flat, only his is above a police station. Like Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion has a manservant, only his manservant is a reformed criminal with lots of useful contacts. When stealth is necessary, Campion can go through a restaurant, climb into a dumb waiter in the manager’s office, and thus be lifted into his own flat without being observed from the front street. The police sometimes recommend Campion to people when they, themselves, are unable to assist. Which is what happens in this case.
Until the end of the first chapter, Campion is known only as “a pale young man”, seemingly innocuous and foolish, who wanders around with a pet mouse, and inadvertently (or so it seems) prevents Lobbett Sr. from being electrocuted in a shipboard conjuring trick. Judge Lobbett’s son, Marlowe (another great detective name), obtains Campion’s calling card. Once in London, Marlowe tries to obtain police protection for his father, but Crowdy will have none of it. So on the advice of the police, he contacts Campion.
In an attempt to isolate the obstinate judge from crowds of strangers, Campion arranges for the family to rent the manor belonging to friends of his, Giles and Biddy Paget (twenty-three-year-old twins) in Mystery Mile “on the grey marshy coast of Suffolk”. With police stopping incoming cars to the isthmus, and the twins moved to the Dowager House, the judge should be safe and secure. But, of course, things don’t go according to plan.
The country setting is wonderful. The village consists of one shop which contains a post office, and the man running it is considered “foreign” because he is from another county. The manor grounds have a huge maze of yew which has become rather overgrown in the last few years. Around the whole village is a ground mist and, at low tide, there are soft spots or “quick patches” in which a man could be “sucked under and completely buried” within minutes. A country parson affectionately referred to as St. Swithin, is a great friend to the Pagets, and the local character, George (who, being the oldest living member of the main family in the village, considers himself to be mayor), adds some comic relief.
Everything starts off well enough, and then an itinerant palmist/fortuneteller arrives. Shortly after his departure, there’s a suicide, a disappearance, and a kidnapping. The suicide victim leaves several clues, one of which is the ivory red knight pictured on the cover page. The disappearance of Judge Lobbett occurs in broad daylight and despite the whole village searching everywhere, everyone appears to be completely baffled. There is never a dull moment in this ‘who dunnit.’ Campion’s light-hearted, enthusiastic bantering belies his keen mind and deep affection for his friends, and before long, he’s enlisting the help of ex-cons to help track down the kidnap victim and rescue her from the London gang who grabbed her. The suspense heightens when Campion and company climb out a 3rd story window, creep across rooftops in the dark, and fight it out with the gang, while smoke obscures the scene, and fire engine sirens can be heard approaching. But the adventure doesn’t end there. When Campion has to face down the criminal mastermind, the tension is palpable. You are sure to enjoy this classic mystery. * * * * *
This book is available in a variety of formats from Amazon and other fine book sellers. (The Whisper version does not contain the map of Mystery Mile that is in the hard copies, but it is available through a Google search. Or, just drag it off my blog page.)
This book meets my requirement for a P. I. story in my Eclectic Reader Challenge list. Six down, six to go!