Death Of A Ghost by Margery Allingham

Death Of A GhostJohn Lafcadio, a great painter (in his own opinion at least) has concocted a scheme for his fame to last well beyond his death. He has bequeathed twelve paintings to his wife to be unveiled ceremoniously, one a year, after his death.

Eight years later, his friends and family gather for the unveiling in Little Venice. After the painting is unveiled, the lights go out and guess what? When the lights come back on, a young artist lies dead, stabbed with a pair of scissors. Luckily for Lafcadio’s widow, one of the guests at the viewing is a certain Mr Albert Campion. He begins his hunt for the killer – but this killer is already several steps ahead of Campion…

OK, so my first encounter with Albert Campion was probably an ill-advised one as a starter, so after many recommendations, I plumped for this one, Campion’s sixth outing and billed as a more traditional mystery. What’s more, my copy has the intriguing tagline

“HOW COULD A PAINTING COMMIT MURDER?”

Well, I’ve no idea where that came from. There’s nothing like that in the story at all. Naughty cover designers…

The more I read of the Golden Age, the more I appreciate the variety of tale. I was under the impression that the majority of Golden Age detective fiction basically followed the Christie format, with the villain unmasked and taken away at the end of the tale. But while Christie, Carr, Queen and Marsh all followed this format, it seems that a number of others didn’t.

This is something different, even though it’s a lot closer to a traditional whodunit than Traitor’s Purse. The pacing is certainly not what I expected and a lot more emphasis is placed on finding evidence to prove the culprit’s guilt than Christie ever focused on. It’s difficult to say much more about the plot without spoiling things, but this is an entertaining tale. The characters are distinctive (although calling two of them Linda and Lisa confused me for a bit – read an entire chapter with the wrong character in my head) although I found Campion a bit of a cypher. That might be the point though. Notably, he’s an instinctive sleuth, rather than a deductive one, and certainly not an infallible one.

At the Bodies In The Library conference, Allingham was universally praised. While I’m not a complete convert, I can see why people would think this. So I’ll be back to Mr Campion in the near future. But in the meantime, this is Recommended.

This post is my entry for Past Offences Crimes Of The Century for 1934.

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26 comments

    • Yup. I’d recommend your review to anyone who wants to know more detail but you make some very good points – interesting that some recommended this to me as a whodunit from Allingham but you place it in the thriller category.

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      • some recommended this to me as a whodunit

        How odd! It’s obviously not a whodunnit because we know the answer to that bit pretty early on. I called it a thriller because (for me) that’s the nearest conventional category that it falls into, but really it’s sort of in a category of its own. I suppose one could legitimately call it a mystery, because the, er, backstory is a mystery that has to be unravelled. But, hm, thinking out loud here . . . If The Tiger in the Smoke is the standard for Allingham’s own breed of thriller, then this one sits very consonantly alongside it.

        As for Tey: I’m surprised you didn’t like The Daughter of Time, because it’s generally a favourite (and I too enjoyed it). You might like Miss Pym Disposes, which is close to a standard mystery, or Brat Farrar, which I found a fascinating teaser (and must reread Real Soon Now).

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      • No less than Sergio recommended it thus in the comments for the Traitor’s Purse review… As for The Daughter Of Time, the underlying idea is so flawed – I’m rather keen on medieval history – that it undermined the whole thing.

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  1. Love your enthusiasm for the golden age! I hope you revisit this era often. This is a great site. Please keep up the good work.

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    • Thanks, Andy. Although I’m just as keen at finding “proper” mysteries in modern books, but I’m discovering there’s so much more to read from the classic era too. My TBR pile covers at least two shelves at the moment…

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  2. Again for your TBR list, PD, let me suggest Flowers for the Judge as one of Allingham’s best. And it gives away nothing to tell you that I think her closing sentence to the book is as close to perfect as possible…

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  3. Yes, this is more a thriller than a mystery and certainly not a whodunit. If you prefer mystery to thriller, I recommend, as Lesblatt does, Flowers For The Judge.

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    • I think there’s a reasonable call for it being a mystery, just a very differently paced one. Good thing Campion relies on intuition though, as there aren’t really any clues…

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  4. You are right about the characters being distinctive, and the most distinctive of all was the one who never appears. That is the long gone John Lafcadio. I liked how the household and hangers on were portrayed, where everyone was in awe of Lafcadio except his widow. She remembered him fondly, but was not in awe.

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  5. Glad this went better for you chum – Allingham is a charming author and Campion can be a bit elusive (deliberately so as he is meant to be shrouded in mystery) – but her approach, which often relied on adventure and treasure hunts much more than conventional whodunits, is a bit special and unusual and really worth celebrating. And the nice thing about Campion is that he ages, gets married, has kids and changes accordingly – really unusual. Well worth watching the Peter Davison show as a primer by the way. I wish he had made more than 8 of the novels.

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      • There are cases where the adaptation is infinitely superior to the book actually – BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY for instance and the Orson Welles films LADY FROM SHANGHAI and TOUCH OF EVIL, both adapted from perfectly decent mystery novels and greatly improved. On TV, which is what you originally said, I realise that, it is less obviously the case, I agree, though i wouyld argue that MORSE on TV is the superior

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      • Well, obviously we have discussed MORSE before – I think the plotds are stromger in the books but the characterisationa nd atmosphere is so much better on TV and so prefer the combination of the two. A classic example of this is LAST SEEN WEARING which completely changes the book and even has a new murderer and yet, to my way of thinking, works extremely well. The book is highly entertaining as a puzzle, I agree (and has several links to WOODS of course, which i also liked a lot) but I thought the much more nuanced character development made a massive difference.

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      • Dexter certainly was someone who continued the puzzle plot – for a while at least – but when he focusses more on character, once the books became popular, I felt that the plot suffered. WOODS is the only book that successfully balanced the two ideas, but even then, iirc, Morse causes more mayhem (and a death) with his plan and doesn’t show any real remorse. I think. It’s been a while…

        As for the TV, the best episodes are certainly better than the best books, thanks to John Thaw and Kevin Whately. But the worst are certainly on a par with the worst books as well.

        Still prefer Lewis (we’ve had this disagreement before) for its consistency and more positive atmosphere (apart from the Peter Davison episode which was rubbish)

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      • We are never going to agree about LEWIS and I thought the davison one was pretty good (it’s the one in which Lewis and the Doctor finally get together, right? I ahhh’d a lot (I’m such a softie) 🙂 Hopefully we are more in sync on ENDEAVOUR, clearly a superior bit of telly!

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  6. OK, it;s been a while since I read DEATH OF A GHOST but despite what John says, I’m still pretty darn sure it’s a whodunit – I’m getting on a bit but surely I haven’t become that muddle-headed (… gulp)

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  7. I had this an audiobook at the end of 2014 (https://nordie.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/book-review-death-of-a-ghost-by-margery-allingham/) and declared it “Not perhaps my favourite Campion, but still has some interesting set pieces in it to change things around a bit”. I’ve listened to a number narrated by Frances Matthews now and am enjoying his style.

    Campion, staring Peter Davidson in his post Dr Who, post Peculiar Practice nearly still famous mode (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0205749/?ref_=nv_sr_1) is still being shown on Drama in the UK. I’ve not watched it, even after reading some of the books. I dont mind watching the Christie or Marsh adaptations – no idea why i dont want to watch Campion!

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