Mystery Mile (1930) by Margery Allingham

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham 1930 book cover

4 Stars (4/10 stars)

“First his secretary, seated in his master’s chair, was shot,” he said slowly. “Then his butler, who was apparently after his master’s Scotch, got poisoned. Then his chauffeur met with a very mysterious accident, and finally a man walking with him down the street got a coping stone on his head.” He sat back and regarded his companion almost triumphantly. “What do you say to that?” he demanded.

“Shocking,” said the young man. “Very bad taste on someone’s part. Rotten marksmanship, too,” he added, after some consideration.

The passengers of the SS Elephantine are in for a treat; a famous magician is also on board, and willing to perform his disappearing act in the ship’s talent show. Judge Crowdy Lobbett eagerly volunteers, until he is pushed aside by a rude young man who insists on making his pet mouse disappear. Lucky for them, as the mouse is electrocuted before their eyes.

It would seem to be nothing more than a careless accident, except that Judge Lobbett has been the target of too many accidents since beginning his pursuit of the Simister gang. Finally it appears fortune is on his side, for the young man with the mouse is none other than Albert Campion. But the judge’s unknown enemy may be too strong for even the ingenious Campion.

Long time no see! I recently bought my first house and everything took about five times longer than expected, which is surely unrelated to the 30 boxes of books that needed to be moved…

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham 1930 book coverMystery Mile is Albert Campion’s first solo outing after his splashy debut as a supporting character in The Crime at Black DudleyLike that earlier novel, Mystery Mile is an international-conspiracy thriller that takes place in a spooky old mansion. Happily, it improves upon its predecessor, benefiting from a relatively distinct cast of characters and a sinister atmosphere.

To protect the judge, Campion lures the Lobbett family to the island of Mystery Mile. The manor house, owned by twins Biddy and Giles Paget, should be easy to secure as the island is connected to the mainland by only a single narrow causeway. However, unsettling events soon make it clear that no one will be safe until Campion defeats an evil that threatens to engulf the entire free world.

“That house of yours across the park, and this one—they were so quiet, undisturbed for centuries, it seemed that nothing terrible could happen in them. But now we’ve brought you this horror. Sometimes I feel”—her voice sank to a whisper—“that we’ve roused the devil. There’s some ghastly evil power dogging us, something from which we can’t escape.”

Obviously, there’s a certain amount of tosh present here—dialect, mysterious Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham 1930 book coverfortune-tellers, ancient superstitions about owls—but the shallowness of the narrative actually works in its favor because only a few of these goofier elements overstay their welcome. Allingham credibly portrays the nervous tension afflicting the inhabitants of Mystery Mile, and Campion’s showdown with the villain is a nail-biter.

Still, once again the character of Albert Campion is more interesting than the mystery he’s involved in. His usual persona is that of a dim young man-about-town, peering gormlessly at life through horn-rimmed spectacles.

“I say,” he said, “do you always talk like this?”

Mr. Campion looked abashed. “Almost always,” he said. “People get used to it in time. I can’t help it, it’s a sort of affliction, like stammering or a hammer toe. My friends pretend they don’t notice it.”

Mystery Mile adds a little depth to the character; while Campion still bears suspicious similarities to Lord Peter Wimsey, he is starting to become more individual. A surprising amount of the Campion mythology is in place already, from the flat above the police station (tended by Cockney manservant Lugg) to his mysterious relationship with the royal family.

As a thriller,  Mystery Mile is just okay, and as a mystery it’s altogether useless, but Campion fans will find a lot to enjoy.

Availability

Mystery Mile is available in ebook and paperback formats from Bloomsbury in the US and Vintage in the UK. A free public-domain ebook is also available to Canadian readers at Faded Page


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