A S Byatt has a lot to answer for. I’ve now come across several reviews of Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, where the reviewer only read the book after her article in the Guardian last year.
Personally, I wanted to remind myself of the plot, so went to our Allingham shelf to reacquaint myself with the book, only to discover we didn’t have a copy. Hence its appearance on my Christmas wish list, and because it was the only item on the list issued to the Resident IT Consultant, I wasn’t massively surprised to receive a copy. Which, had been my plan all along. [Don’t give them a choice.]
It’s been years since I read Margery Allingham’s Campion books. I loved them, and I rather loved him as well, being much more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey. And I obviously would have loved to be Lady Amanda; the girl who decided she was going to marry him.
In Traitor’s Purse, set in 1941, Campion has had a knock on the head and doesn’t even remember her, or his manservant Lugg, or who he himself is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing. (Saving the country is what.)
Being a man, he doesn’t start asking useful questions like ‘Who am I?’ but sets about quietly grappling with each thing as it comes along. He makes the mistake of thinking Amanda is his wife, and his private fears about maybe losing her are wonderfully described. You take a girl for granted for years and…
This is a great detective trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. He works out who is good and who is bad, and almost what the problem is, but hasn’t got a clue what to do.
After this long away from Campion’s world, I noticed the social aspects much more. But it’s a marvellous story and the writing is as good as ever, and you have to overlook the fact that occasionally the upper classes are portrayed as more reliable than the rest of us. It’s the way it was.
But behind it all is the usual humour and courage and an exciting plot. ‘Good lord, he could climb like a cat!’ This is a handy discovery when you are forced to flee over the rooftops. Most of us will already know whether a route like that is likely to be successful, but Campion hasn’t got any idea of what he can and can’t do. He just knows he has to try.
My thanks to A S Byatt. I hadn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. Might be time to return to more old diamonds.