More of the wonderful Margery Allingham, this time my first encounter with her short stories. Thirteen exquisite tales set in pre-war high-society London, starring her more younger and more worldly Wimsey – Albert Campion – and his sceptical plod/Knacker/Lestrade – Stanislaus Oates. The stories are (mostly) wonderfully similar in their elements (robbery, blackmail, heiresses, old school friends, elderly female relations, lunch at the club), but also in their structure. Usually a story begins with Campion’s meeting someone, hearing of a crime, event or romance; he then moves on to another apparently completely separate scenario, only to realise (as do we) that the clues to the second are all in the first meeting. This lack of experimentation, combined with the beautiful witty writing, which just prods not-too-harshly at social pretensions and idiocy, is what makes them such pleasant distractions.
Allingham’s women are perhaps the only awkward element: portrayed through male public-school/university/clubland spectacles, they fall into one of the usual two categories: either domineering old bats, termagants, power-aunts one cannot get away from, or pretty young things, often a little dippy, never guileful. It’s the men who are more individuated.