Tag Archives: Margery Allingham

At Brown’s Hotel

The young witch used to frequent Brown’s, much to the surprise of her elders and betters. It was the lure, which good old-fashioned English places and customs have for foreigners. It’s related to liking Midsomer Murders, which I last tried rubbishing in the company of my Swedish neighbours, only to be told how much they love it.

Well, Brown’s is supposed to have been the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel, and the book was written in the hotel lounge. I used to go there for afternoon tea, which in the olden days cost about a fiver, and that felt a lot less then, than whatever the cost is today.

It was worth it purely for the show put on by the very professional waiters. A friend of mine couldn’t stop talking about how they could remove the table cloth, with a flourish, while things were still on the table. Pretty good entertainment that was.

I was reminded of this the other day in London. Not only was I in Mayfair, close to my old haunt in Albemarle Street, but the hotel where I talked to Budge Wilson the next day, made me think of Brown’s, too. Budge’s hotel didn’t come out well in comparison. I need to return to Brown’s to see for myself if the staff can still speak English, and if they know how to serve tea. Surely they must? But I think the chintz may be gone.

Foreigners need chintz, no matter what that famous flatpack furniture store says. We like the feeling of old criminal London, from the Victorian crime novels to the postwar smog that was so good to commit murder in.

Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart is good for atmosphere, and so is his New Cut Gang books. And there’s not just Agatha Christie, but Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and others. Mother-of-Witch always said murder’s not very nice. She was right, of course, but as fiction in the right setting, it’s also very, well, comforting.

Cosy crime

Just as I was saying earlier about liking cosy Christmas books, I like my crime cosy. This is possibly a contradiction in terms, as crime isn’t supposed to be terribly nice. But I suspect the British can’t imagine quite how fond us foreigners are of sweet little murders in romantic English settings.

It’s almost become something to look down on, but there really isn’t anything wrong with cosy crime. It doesn’t all have to be Miss Marple. I spent years enjoying Margery Allingham’s lovable Campion. And when Alleyn isn’t gallivanting around New Zealand, he’s very cosy too.

I could go on and on.

Then there’s the opposite of cosy, and these days that’s often Nordic crime. I know that crime readers in the Nordic countries obviously like their own, but what’s amusing to observe is the English speaking world’s fascination for stark Scandinavian brutality and unhappiness. It makes me shudder and want to run to Miss Marple for a nice cup of tea.

I do quite like the Scandinavian stuff in the shape of films or television series. I often recommend Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Beck, and as a family we really enjoy the Danish series Mordkommissionen.

I can no longer stand Midsomer Murders, but foreign audiences love it. They don’t realise that the poor village cleaner can’t afford that charming country cottage, and think that’s how we all live. I know this, because even I used to be deluded like that. It didn’t help that my first few encounters with English families could have come straight out of the BBC. You live and learn…

Even the new ghastly Marple is charming and cosy. Foyle’s War is cosy.

Weird how we’re so taken with each other’s kind of crime. I have, belatedly, ordered a copy of Stieg Larsson’s first book, soon out in English. Everyone has read it. Adele Geras loved it. So I’ll see if I can squeeze in the 500 pages somewhere.