Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham which is called in the US – The Sabotage Murder Mystery – was first published in 1941. After reading an article in the Guardian recently about the book I decided I had to read it soon, so I resorted to the internet to get it fast, rather than doing my usual patient mooching in secondhand bookshops and trusting to serendipity that it would turn up soon.
Prior to reading the Guardian article I had always read that Allingham’s best book was The Tiger in the Smoke, so I was very surprised when Traitor’s Purse was mentioned as being so good, but I must say that I agree completely, especially as the book cleared up a puzzle for me.
I had always been perplexed by the character of Allingham’s sleuth, Albert Campion. I haven’t been reading her books in order and it seemed obvious to me that the older Campion had matured into a much more interesting human being. To put it bluntly the young Campion always seemed to me to be more than a bit of a wet willie. In Traitor’s Purse Campion has more or less the same opinion of himself as I had.
Campion wakes up in a hospital bed, unable to remember anything, not even his own name. He overhears a conversation which implies that he is a murderer and will be hanged, so he wastes no time and escapes from the hospital. Outside he bumps into Amanda and some other people who have no idea that he has lost his memory, but they seem to expect Campion to be in charge. There’s an important thing which they expect him to do, but Campion is clueless as to what it is.
When he catches sight of himself in a mirror he’s surprised by how old he looks as he seems at least ten years older than he thought he was. (Which of us hasn’t had that experience!) But worst of all is that he has assumed that Amanada is his wife, so it’s a horrible shock when he discovers that he is only engaged to her and he has been engaged to her for 8 years.
What sort of man is he he wonders? Who would leave Amanda dangling like that all that time? He doesn’t like the personality which seems to be his. It’s all very well being a gentleman but it doesn’t have to be combined with stupidity.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I’m presuming that Allingham realised that she needed to make Campion a much stronger character than she had made him before. He needed a knock on the head to give him a different outlook on life, and that’s exactly what she gave him. Written at the beginning of the war and at a time when things weren’t exactly going well for the allies this is more of a spy thriller than a murder mystery and fittingly John Le Carre was an admirer of her writing.
You can read the Guardian article about Allingham and Traitor’s Purse here.