10 September 2009

Forgotten Book: THE MIND READERS, Margery Allingham

This week's contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Who reads Margery Allingham (1902-1966) these days? Well, I apparently read this one, according to my records, in June 1976. But strangely, in my notebook I've called it THE MIND BENDERS. I presume this was a slip of the pen as it were.

This is quite a long way down in Allingham's Albert Campion series, in fact published in 1965, the year before she died.

Fact catches up with fiction when the secret of telepathic communication is discovered. But the device is in the possession of two schoolboys. Whether they stole it or invented it, there are powerful interests who will kill to get hold of it. Albert Campion faces as deadly a challenge as any in his career.

This apparently wasn't a popular book. A comment on Amazon says "One of Allingham’s few (mercifully few) outstanding failures. The plot is a mess, with a lot of needless complications (all recounted in Allingham’s obscure manner that makes Gladys Mitchell look sober and straightforward) failing to disguise the fact that there is no actual plot to speak of. The murderer is known very early on, revealed and killed some chapters before the end, which is an anti-climax rivalled only by the behaviour of Albert Campion."

The reference on the Margery Allingham Society website, part of a biography of the writer, is kinder:
"The Mind Readers (1965) is the last of Allingham's completed novels; before Cargo of Eagles was finished, she had died of cancer, at Colchester, six weeks after her sixty-second birthday. Though The Mind Readers was comparatively ill received, it has many saving graces: acute intelligence, contagious zest, lavish invention and intense commitment to its unusual theme. The narrative looks confidently to the future, while also harking back to the high exuberance of the early adventure novels. Essentially, this is an escapade, in which sinister powers plot to possess a treasure, while Campion and his henchmen strive to make it secure. The title indicates the nature of the treasure: a device for reading people's minds, discovered by two of Amanda's great nephews. Campion, for once, can only watch and wonder – at his own deliverance from imminent death, and finally at the spectacular denouement engineered by the boys. After a tangled action, the novel ends on a clear note of hope. The death of a traitor inspires a patriotic outburst reminiscent of that in Traitor's Purse, and the spies and schemers who seek to control the devise are wholly confounded."

I haven't read a lot of Margery Allingham recently, but in my database I have this record from late 2007.

THE FASHION IN SHROUDS, publ. 1938 (Audio CD), my rating 3.8
Had I not been listening to this, I might not have finished it. It's rather plodding nature illustrated for me how crime fiction has changed since the 1930s. This is an Albert Campion novel. Actress Georgia Wells was once engaged to a young barrister who disappeared 3 years before. She is now Lady Ramillies, married to an older, wealthy man. Albert Campion has just discovered the skeleton of her former fiance, and now it seems that Georgia and Ramillies are on the path of marital collapse. Georgia certainly has her eye on a younger man. And then Ramillies dies, seemingly from heart attack after a night of hard drinking, rather inconveniently on the eve of an important and well-publicised aeroplane flight to Africa. After reading an article at http://www.margeryallingham.org.uk/biography.htm I do feel perhaps that I might have got more out of this reading if I had read earlier novels in the series and already met some of the characters (introduced in earlier titles) and understand where this novel stood in the series.

However more recently I acquired and read MYSTERIOUS PLEASURES, a collection of short stories edited by Martin Edwards. It contains a short story by Margery Allingham which I did enjoy. In One Morning They'll Hang Him Albert Campion prevents a miscarriage of justice when the police inspector assumes the wrong person has committed the murder.

So what do you remember about Margery Allingham?

If you want to walk down memory lane, the Margery Allingham Society has quite a comprehensive website.

1 comment:

Kerry said...

I generally always enjoy Margery Allingham when I read her. Although I must admit that I've mainly read her earlier works and never quite made it towards the end of her bibliography. I find her to be a good audiobook option. I'm not sure why - it may even be the simple fact that the print in her books tends to be so small I can barely manage to read it these days!


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