John 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.