The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

The White Cottage Mystery cover

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham was first serialised in the Daily Express in 1927 and was published as a book the following year. I read a Bloomsbury Reader paperback which I borrowed from the library.

I’ve previously only read Allingham’s Campion books which I do generally enjoy, especially the later ones, but I liked this one even more and it’s a shame that she didn’t write more books featuring Inspector Challenor of Scotland Yard, with his son Jerry as his side-kick. This one begins just as I like with the murder being committed very early on.

Jerry is driving along a Kentish road, enjoying the change from London when he turns into a good Samaritan, offering a lift to a young woman who is struggling with a large basket having just got off a bus with it. He drops her off at the White Cottage which is situated close to an ugly vast pile of a private house. As Jerry is in conversation with the local policeman they hear a loud gunshot and so begins the mystery.

The victim is Eric Crowther, owner of the ugly house, but it seems that despite there being lots of people around within the two houses, nobody can give any information as to how Crowther ended up shot in the White Cottage and certainly nobody is sorry to see the back of him. There’s an embarrassment of riches suspect-wise and as Jerry has fallen for the young lady that he helped, he’s worried that she is involved in the murder.

This book certainly doesn’t read like the first effort at a murder mystery that it is, and I really liked the relationship between Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry.

Bloomsbury has chosen to go down the same route as the British Crime Classics Library and based the book cover on the vintage railway poster below, although it seems to have been slightly changed by Emma Ewbank.

Wales

Library books

It’s a good wee while since I blogged about any books that I’ve borrowed from the library – so here goes!

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham was first serialised in 1927, but according to the Fantastic Fiction link it wasn’t published as a book until 1928. I think it’s the first Allingham book which I’ve read that doesn’t feature Albert Campion. I’m enjoying it, it only has 157 pages and I reached page 75 in one sitting.

Allingham

I decided to give M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth books a go so took out the first in the series Death of Gossip which was published in 1995. I’m not sure about this one and I’ve only seen snippets of the TV series, but I want to give it a go anyway as I know it was so popular. Mind you I’ve found that popularity is not always a plus where books or TV are concerned.

Beaton

Another by Margery Allingham – Hide My Eyes was first published in 1958. I requested this book and I assume that I did that because a blogger that I follow had recommended it recently, but it’s always late at night when I go onto the library website to request books – or even early in the morning, and I can’t remember doing it!

Allingham

I decided to do a bit of research about Shetland as we’ve been meaning to holiday there for a few years now. Shetland by Ann Cleeves seems an ideal place to begin. It has some gorgeous photographs, but one thing puzzles me. Everyone says that Shetland is so different from Orkney (which we have visited) but from the photos they look very alike to me. Maybe the people mean it’s different in atmosphere. I hope we’ll find out one day – but it’s quite a difficult place to get to by car and the ferry trip is very long. Well it is about halfway to Norway I suppose.

Shetland

Have you borrowed anything good out of the library recently? I know I should be concentrating on reading my own books, but I also feel the need to use the local libraries to keep their stats up. I suspect that the local council would be happy to close just about all of them.

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

The Fashion in Shrouds cover

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham was first published in 1938 but my copy is a hardback reprint from 1940 and has 437 pages. It was so much more pleasant a reading experience compared with the vintage Penguin crime Allingham editions that I usually read.

I had a look at some reviews of this book on Goodreads and it comes in for quite a bit of flak from some readers for being misogynistic. I read it from a different angle and had a good laugh at a lot of it, which I’m sure was intended by Allingham. Quite often the ‘mysoginistic’ comments are made by other women and used to be called plain bitchy. Apart from anything else, this book features the lovely red headed and smart Amanda who eventually married Campion and in my opinion leads to him becoming a far more rounded character – she improved her man, just as many a good woman does I’m sure.

It also features Valentine, Albert Campion’s sister. She’s working as a designer in a London couturier’s, she’s talented and very well-connected, exactly what is needed to attract well-heeled clients to the business. When one of her special designs for Georgia Wells a famous actress is stolen it kicks off series of events that need Campion’s attention. Georgia Wells is one of those women that should come with DANGEROUS TO MEN stamped on her forehead. She enjoys the adoration of men and is more than happy to steal the men of her friends, particularly Val’s man – and rub their noses in it. You can just about hear Campion’s teeth grinding, and Georgia’s husband is none too pleased either.

Then there’s a string of murders, but fear not as Campion sorts it all out of course.

This did remind me of a storyline in The House of Elliot which was a series revolving around a fashion house in London owned by two sisters. I loved it when it was on TV in the 1980s but when I saw an episode of it not that long ago it seemed quite stilted and also ‘hammy’. Acting styles often change over the years I suppose.

Anyway, back to the book – it has put me in the mood to read more by Allingham and I’ll have to have a look and see what I still have of hers – unread.

The 1930 Club

club

I’m taking part in The 1930 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and so I’m reading Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley which is 613 pages long so I doubt if I’ll be reading any others. I’ve been busy with visitors until now so I’ll be glad to immerse myself in reading this week.

As it happens I’ve read a lot of books that were published in 1930 in the past and the links will take you to the ones I’ve previously blogged about.

Alice and Thomas and Jane by Enid Bagnold

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

Miss Mole by E.H. Young

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Mr Campion’s Farthing by Youngman Carter

Mr Campion's Farthing cover

Mr Campion’s Farthing by Youngman Carter was published in 1969, three years after his wife Margery Allingham’s death. He had completed her unfinished book Cargo of Eagles and decided to write more books featuring Albert Campion, but he only wrote two before his own death. Apparently he had always helped out with the plots of Allingham’s books, I can easily believe that as this book is certainly not close to being the worst I’ve read. It’s very much of its time, featuring Russians and an attempt by one of the characters to defect during a trip to London. That sort of thing often seemed to be happening in the 1960s and 70s as I recall – back in the ‘good old days’!

Anyway – this book is fairly well written although a bit bizarre in parts, but it would have been better if Campion hadn’t been involved at all. He’s obviously used as a means of obtaining more sales. In this book though Campion has reverted to being the young Campion of the early days before he matured and actually developed a personality. It’s not enough just to describe a character as having large horn-rimmed spectacles, and more or less leave it at that. I’ll probably give this one a 3 on Goodreads but 2.5 would be nearer the mark.

The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham was asked by some American friends to write about the experiences of life in her Essex village during the run up to the outbreak of war – and the next couple of years. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a copy of this one for some years and at last I gave up hope of finding it in a secondhand bookshop and resorted to the internet. I was particularly interested in this one because for a couple of years I lived in Essex, in Braintree which is a town just 15 miles from Tolleshunt-Darcy where Allingham lived. Of course due to the need for secrecy the village was given a different name – she chose to call it Auburn after a village in an Oliver Goldsmith poem.

She makes it clear that the locals have a certain character, they would possibly be seen as being a bit odd compared with people elsewhere in England as the East Anglians are a bit of a breed apart, but when you get down to it where the war is concerned they behave much the same as the rest of Britain. Although that ‘eastern’ character is recognisable in the whole of the east coast of the UK I think. I was quite surprised by how naive they seemed to be though – regarding Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler. They gave him a lot of credit and placed great trust in him, so when the inevitable happened and we ended up at war with Germany AGAIN – they were truly shocked.

This misplaced trust was almost certainly because the village had suffered badly from the loss of a generation of young men in World War I. They probably just couldn’t bear the thought of it all happening again, and that the death of those youngsters had been for nothing. In fact there were hardly any children in the village for that reason. When Churchill took over they all sighed with relief and Allingham judged his character perfectly I think.

For some reason the villagers all had great faith that mainland European countries would be able to see the Nazis off, particularly the French. I cannot fathom why they thought the French would be great fighters.

Auburn went from being a sleepy rural idyll to a place of constant night time noise as hundreds of Nazi bombers flew overhead under cover of darkness, on their way to nearby London. Inevitably bombs began to fall on Auburn and the surrounding towns, Allingham’s husband joined up to do his bit and she eventually had to take over from the war work that he had been doing locally.

One thing that really struck me was her description of watching a formation of 75 Junkers bombers flying overhead and noticing that there were two tiny things like white lice threading there way across and up and down in the formation, like a sewing machine – then she realised that those white specks were the RAF doing their thing. Eventually the bombers gave up and turned back towards France again. Reading that it made me realise just how plucky the young men (hardly more than boys really) of the RAF had been.

Sometimes the more you know about authors the less you like them but Margery Allingham comes across as being a really likeable person (on a par with John Steinbeck for me). She really avoids party politics although she does say that the village is true blue, but if that is meant to mean Conservative then their behaviour is the opposite of the Conservative party of today as they have become progressively more nasty with every decade since the war. My Conservative voting father wouldn’t recognise that party today and certainly wouldn’t vote for them. To lots of people the word socialism is a dirty word, even evil, but Margery Allingham describes socialism as being like Christianity without the religion. That’s perfect as far as I’m concerned.

Towards the end of the book she writes about her personal thoughts on life, class and politics. Her attitudes are definitely those of middle England, too class ridden for my Scottish sensibilities as we are more inclined to take people as they actually are – not because of their status in society. This is what attracted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Scotland and the Scots. It’s a more healthy way of looking at society as it avoids that bizarre ‘respect the uniform/status’ nonsense which is a danger to society. As we say in Scotland, ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns‘ which means that when you get down to it – be we queen or pauper we’re all human beings. Although as the Scots were very popular with the Auburn villagers and Margery Allingham, particularly the Scottish regiment that camped out in the village for a while, I can’t help feeling just a wee bit – no not quite superior about it, but certainly happy!

Phew. That was a ramble and a half, anyway, if you’re at all interested in the social history and the run up to the start of World War 2 and on until 1941 when the book was first published you’ll find this book really interesting.

Christmas books

I was lucky and got a few books as Christmas gifts.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
A Horseman Riding By by R.F. Delderfield
English Garden Flowers by William Robinson (a lovely old gardening book)
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham
Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

I also got Pawn in Frankincese by Dorothy Dunnett – but that one didn’t make it into my photo.

Books for Christmas 2017

I intend to read The Oaken Heart soon, it’s the story of Margery Allingham’s village in wartime Britain.

At the moment I’m reading Long Summer Day, the first book in the Delderfield trilogy.
I’ve already finished reading Portrait of a Murderer but haven’t written about it yet.
The old gardening book will be one for dipping into from time to time I think.

This year I really want to concentrate on reading my own books, but no doubt that desperately alluring site – Fife libraries catalogue will lure me into temptation at some point!

Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards

Crimson Snow cover

Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.

The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.

Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.

Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!

The 1968 Club

1968

At the moment I’m reading A Small Town in Germany by Len Deighton for the 1968 Club which has been organised by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. This week came around far too quickly for me, I had intended to read a few books for it, but here are a few that I’ve read previously.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

It’s an eclectic mix I think you’ll agree. I hope to have A Small Town in Germany finished soon.

20 Books of Summer 2017 update

I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell