Monday, May 04, 2015

Campion’s Humorous New Champion

(Editor’s note: The following short review comes from “Michael Gregorio,” a byline behind which hides the husband-and-wife writing team of Daniela De Gregorio and Michael G. Jacob. After penning four historical mysteries featuring early 19th-century Prussian magistrate-cum-detective Hanno Stiffeniis, including 2010’s Unholy Awakening, the pair most recently published Cry Wolf, the opening entry in a new crime series set in Italy’s Umbria region.)

Margery Allingham, one of the queens of the “Golden Age” of British detective stories, died in 1966. Her husband of almost four decades, Philip Youngman Carter, took up the baton for a few years after that, composing fiction starring his wife’s “gentleman sleuth,” Albert Campion, and writing under her name, but then he, too, passed away in 1969. Allingham fans were left in the lurch, so to speak, until author author-critic Mike Ripley stepped bravely into the breach more than 40 years later, having been invited to compose Mr. Campion’s Farewell from notes that Youngman Carter left to the Margery Allingham Society, the members of which were desperate to read more.

No one could have been better suited for the job.

Ripley, better known to his fans as “The Ripster” (the nickname with which he signs each edition of “Getting Away with Murder,” his monthly Shots column), is a truly entertaining writer. Rap Sheet contributor Jim Napier included Mr. Campion’s Farewell among his favorite mystery novels of 2014, describing it as “a delightful, timeless tale.” The new Mr. Campion’s Fox (Severn House), the latest installment in what promises to be a sparkling continuation of Margery Allingham’s series, takes the Ripster one step further into her bygone literary world, producing a classic-style detective yarn that’s exquisitely faithful to the original design, but also great fun to read.

Set for the most part in a tiny village on the Suffolk coast of England, with occasional trips into London’s sometimes seedy Soho district, this novel is peopled by a rich and varied cast of characters straight out of the 1960s. There’s the Misses Mister, for example, two eccentric spinster sisters who own the local brewery, and the lugubrious Mr. Lugg, the beadle, who plunges readers into the mystery involving the disappearance of Vibeke, a Danish au pair girl, and the death of her boyfriend, Frank Tate. Murders there are in these pages, and they can be violent. However, they never overstep the limits of taste established by Margery Allingham and her fellow Golden Age authors--Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and their like.

A tight and lively plot is generously seasoned with sardonic quips and humor, as those who have read any of Ripley’s 15 novels about musician-gumshoe Fitzroy Maclean Angel (Angels Unaware, etc.) have come to expect. At the same time, Ripley has to cope in this story with the fact that Allingham’s hero, Albert Campion, has become an old man, and he does so quite cleverly by employing Campion’s (younger) wife, Lady Amanda, and his son, Rupert, to do all the footwork, while the senior Campion’s brain remains as lively as ever. The same goes for his sense of the absurd. What does Mr. Campion wish to have inscribed on his tombstone, for example? “‘Albert Campion. Permanently in the Dark.’ How’s that for an epitaph?”

Mr. Campion’s Fox will delight both longtime Margery Allingham enthusiasts and a generation of younger readers who may not yet be familiar with her work.

Hats off to Mike Ripley!

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