The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

The Tiger in the Smoke features Margery Allingham’s detective Albert Campion. Published in 1952 Campion is now married to a red-head, Amanda, and she seems to have managed to improve him no end. He’s middle-aged now and isn’t as insipid as he was in his earlier years.

Campion’s cousin Meg was widowed at the age of 20 when her husband had been killed in the war. It’s now five years later and Meg has just announced her engagement to Geoffrey Levett, but she has been sent a blurred photograph in the post and it purports to be a recent photo of her supposedly dead husband.

Then Geoffrey disappears and Campion, who isn’t too sure of Geoffrey’s character thinks that he might be involved in the whole thing. But what’s it all about?

Indeed! Read the book, if you’re into vintage crime you’ll really enjoy it. This is the best Margery Allingham book which I’ve read so far, much better than her earlier ones, perfect bedtime or holiday reading.

At 288 pages it seemed to be finished very quickly, this was a bit of a filler and doesn’t feature in my 2011 reading list. Now it’s time to start The Claverings – which is on the list.

The Power House by John Buchan

It’s week one of the year and what with having been behind schedule with War and Peace I was a wee bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete a book from my 2011 Reading List, but I managed. Well it helped that I chose a really short book to read, The Power House is just 130 pages long. First published in 1916 this is another of the many thrillers that John Buchan seems to have written for relaxation purposes and a bit of a hobby, given that he had a very high-flying career as a diplomat and ended up being given a baronetcy.

The story is set in London and Mr Leithen (I don’t think we ever find out his first name) is a Member of Parliament. He was elected in a by-election in which he was supposed to be a forlorn hope and he is still working as a criminal lawyer part-time. Leithen discovers that one of his old friends, Pitt-Heron who happens to be very wealthy, has got mixed up with a lot of strange foreign people and what had been the billiard room in his house has been turned into a laboratory.

When Pitt-Heron bolts suddenly with a large amount of gold which he has taken from his bank, his wife Ethel is at her wits’ end and Leithen and his friend Tommy try to track her husband down for her.

Buchan obviously had a thing about being hunted down because so far every book of his which I’ve read has involved a man-hunt. This one has Leithen being chased across London with people at every turn intent on grabbing him with a view to ‘doing him in’.

This book wasn’t nearly as good as Greenmantle or even The Thirty-Nine Steps, Huntingtower, or Salute to Adventurers but it’s still worthwhile reading if you’re into classic thrillers.

John Buchan
was yet another local lad, having been brought up in Kirkcaldy where his father was a minister in a church near where I live. After leaving school he went to The University of Glasgow to study Classics and went from there to Oxford.

He had a very distinguished career and became Governor General of Canada in 1935. Topically, considering that the film The King’s Speech is just about to be released, John Buchan told the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Buckingham Palace that the people of Canada would be outraged if Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson.

He was given a baronetcy in 1935 and became Lord Tweedsmuir.

I’m running out of Buchan books to read, the only one I have unread is Witch Wood.

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, mainly because John Buchan was a local lad, having been brought up in Fife. His father was a Free Church of Scotland minister in Kirkcaldy.

The book was first published in 1915. Buchan had been ill and had run out of reading material so decided to entertain himself by writing the sort of book which he enjoyed reading.

His main character Richard Hannay finds himself on the run from the police and whoever had murdered his neighbour who had been hiding in Hannay’s London flat.

The murder victim had warned Hannay of an assassination plot which could bring the country to the brink of war.

Hannay makes for his native Scotland with both the police and the murderers hot on his tracks. Travelling all over the country he is helped by various inhabitants but still finds himself in sticky situations.

I enjoyed reading this classic adventure book and will read the sequel Greenmantle too. Good bedtime reading, I think.

The local legend is that Buchan named the book after the 39 steps leading down to the beach at the side of Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy. Here is a photo of the steps. (There are actually more than 40. We counted.)

The 44 Steps

But like every other coastal place there are plenty of steps to choose from leading down to various parts of the beach.

The book was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, but the film is completely different from the book. The most memorable part of the film doesn’t even appear in the book – when Hannay is scrabbling about on the Forth Bridge. But who could blame Hitchcock for changing things, the bridge is a gift for a thriller.

Hitchcock definitely improved the storyline thriller-wise as the Forth Bridge is such a wonderful iconic structure that it seems a huge gaffe on Buchan’s part not to include it in the book. The bridge also featured in the 1959 film starring Kenneth More. Maybe Buchan was just a bit blasĂ© about the bridge – as you tend to be if something is in your own back yard.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge.