Monday 10 December 2012

Pleasant characters

I re-read Margery Allingham's Coroner's Pidgin (first published by William Heineman in 1945, more recently by Penguin).  It's an Albert Campion 'thriller' - the quotation marks are there because I didn't thrill.  It is a period piece which brings back my teenage years, when I was first allowed to read her books, supposedly for 'grown-ups'. The writing itself is excellent, but the story is twee.

Her story includes a description of war-time London, in ways which can be unexpected: London's "thin, war-time traffic", someone leaning back on the taxi's leather seat, ARP personnel "on duty in the square" keeping pigs there, and calling them 'old girl', a soldier finding himself "living in two worlds which were utterly different" - the civilian and the military, familiar landmarks vanishing - "avenues of neatly tidied nothingness".

Returning the book to the shelf, I found another of her books, Tiger in the Smoke, written in 1952. Again, Albert Campion plays a role, and so does Canon Avril, a wise and kind excentric. There is a cute warning, printed as a small block in italics in the middle of the page preceding the table of contents:

Only the most pleasant characters                                                              in this book are portraits of living                                                                   people and the events here recorded                                                             unfortunately never took place.

The characters' behavioural cliches made me cringe at times, but I remained compulsively involved right  to the end.

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