Saturday, November 16, 2013

Margery Allingham – More Work for the Undertaker ,1948

Margery Alligham is one of the most famous exponents of the Golden Age of the detective novel, forming together with Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers, the so-called "Crime Queen"
She was born in London in 1904, in a family where the daily bread was the literature: the parents were writers, an aunt possessed a literary magazine. During childhood, the family moved to Essex where she waited in the studies. Returning to London in 1920, she attended acting studies and met her future husband, who always helped her in her editorial work, designing many of the covers of his books.
Margery began her writing career in 1923 with  Blackkerchief
Dick(a novel in which there were elements of occultism), without having a smashing success, and the same thing happened later, in 1928, when her first thriller was published in print serials, The White Cottage Mystery. However, the real success came when it said published her first novel, The Crime at Black Dudley, 1929 in which she introduced her recurring character, Albert Campion, a middle ground between the various characters of other authors: Lord Peter Wimsey by Sayers and Roderick Alleyn by Ngaio Marsh, and Philo Vance by Van Dine. Unravels the mysteries, but also lives adventures. Also, crafting the characters of Campion and Lugg, Allingham proves to have assimilated the basic idea, followed many times by the writers of the twenties and thirties: an investigator assisted by an aide. After Sherlock Holmes with his faithful Watson, the first writer to break the patterns was Chesterton who invented the priest-detective Father Brown as an assistant co-worker giving a former thief, Flambeau, who later became a detective. The Allingham seems to me that just draws from Chesterton and from this basic idea, to create the pair Campion-Lugg, not forgetting that Flambeau is  a derivation of Arsene Lupin, a thief and a detective (for his own purposes) at the same time.
Often, unlike other leaders, who make their characters act only within contexts fully seated high bourgeoisie (in which victims and killers are part of this organization), the Allingham did not disdain to combine elements of common crime in his stories, inheriting a cliché that it was the very first detective those '10s but also the beginning of the '20s (Meirs, Wallace, Holt, Rohmer, Farjeon, etc. ..). Just in response to this trend that it is seen most often expressed in her novels, that is to bring together a detection pure and kind of English hard-boiled, her stories are often unconventional and have remarkable points of surprise.
Exactly as in the novel More Work for the Undertaker, 1948), a work that is situated in the second half of her production (the first one that goes roughly until 1938, includes ten novels in nine years , in which the character of Campion is predominant in the story and has characters significantly of whodunnit, and the second running from 1941 to 1968 that includes 8 novels in 27 years, in which the main character tends to be dwarfed by other gradually present, and novels themselves are often much more structured than those of the early years), with its more than 200 pages, many characters, many subplots, and even elements of common crime that make the horizon of the novel even more varied and more rich than
appear in the first pages of the novel.
In the background there is a family, the Palinode, once the centerpiece of an entire neighborhood, reduced to poverty, whose members, all brothers and sisters, behave, some as if time didn’t  passed, with exaggerated dignity of class, treating the environment as the nullity (Evadne and also Lawrence), others with dignity or almost entirely absent, behaving like a pauper of the highest species, living by their wits, eating and drinking things taken from the woods or using herbs, only in order to save money (Jessica), still others living strangely their situation.This family dwelling in his house, sold over time and which are now no longer the owners but only boarders, sharing their lives, along with other tenants, all a bit strange: the ex-actor Carrie and ex-soldier , Cap. Seaton. To direct the retiree is Renee, a friend of Campion.
Campion is reluctantly embroiled in the history of Palinode, also called on to deal by the brother of her butler and right arm Lugg, the undertaker Bowlers.
Is dead Ruth Palinode, and an anonymous letter accuses the doctor who drew up the death certificate, to have done it hastily: it is a poisonous letter, written by those who would have us believe, or it is really, little accustomed to write well. Ruth is exhumed and the remains of the organs analyzed, revealing an excessive amount of scopolamine, a poison taken from Henbane, a plant that grows in the city park. With this in mind, you also have the exhumation of the remains of the other brother, Edward, died presumably of stroke. But as the death certificate, he signed the same family doctor who had certified the cause of death by natural causes of Ruth, then discovery instead due to poisoning by scopolamine, you have the exhumation of the remains also of that brother , but it gives a negative result: he really died for cardiac issues.
Meanwhile, other events are tied to the main one: in a basement, the Bowlers manufacture coffins. What do they traffic via the coffins, that come out at night, from the cellar? Apparently father and son are “cleaned”, but Albert Campion does not see clearly.
However, this strange and macabre traffic coffins, which takes place at night, neither they were carrying people died by the plague, rotting corpses, makes the background of other events that overlap, such as criminal events that here and there appear and disappear; and in addition to that, also the pecuniary aspect of the story, since the Palinode have become poor even for the vicissitudes related to the disastrous financial speculations by Edward that squeezed the financial resources of family. So ultimately, why would anyone want kill the old Ruth, who belonged to an ancient family fallen, in poor financial condition? The fact is that Campion and the police discover that their financial conditions would not be such bad, because even if they themselves do not know it, some of the shares they hold and managed by the bank town, are linked to exploitation of certain mines in some vital national interests.
To aggravate the framework of the story, in itself chaotic, it must be added the attempted murder of the young Dunning, Clizia lover, rocked the skull from a blunt instrument, of which you do not understand the purpose, and the attempt to eliminate another of Palinode, Lawrence, during a party, by a decoction made from hemlock.
Campion will find the murderer, remembering the glasses of sherry in which they inserted fake flowers whom he had seen somewhere.
Unlike the first novels in which the path is straight and defined, and therefore more classically the reader has in his hand almost all the elements to be able to evaluate the whole story, here, to the reader often are silenced important elements that will lead to the solution. In this, the Allingham differs clearly from the 20 rules developed by Van Dine, who had been slavishly followed during the '30s. 
Even the murderess comes as a bolt from the blue, because although surprising, perhaps he is too much, because he has never been emphasized in the course of the novel. If anything, it was the bank clerk, who, like the gravediggers, has dark and ghostly apparitions, mingling with the shadows: Con greve is the brother of a self-styled medium (lover of one of the boarders) who sent anonymous letters to various characters of the story , including a pharmacist, another of the victims of the massacre, who committed suicide with cyanide. But Congreve, knowing some details of the story, is not the murderer, but only a vulgar blackmailer: the murderer is impalpable in the course of the novel, until his eventual discovery: it would seem that the Allingham deliberately withheld him, so to increase his role in the finale. There’re many good intentions in this novel, and traces inherited by other authors could mention: The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe or even The Greene Murder Case by Van Dine or even The Tragedy of Y by Ellery Queen, with respect to the number of more or less suspicious deaths of the Palinode. Beyond this…the novel is very hard to read, verbose, full of puns, references, citations: the novel isn’t certainly that a novice player should read to approach to gender. Moreover, many of the quotes and word games, end to  weight the story, already difficult to pin down. And to the end you get more out of inertia, and really to want figure out who hell is responsible and what are all these subplots, than for an actual voltage generated consciously from the style of the writer.
An extremely fascinating novel for the plot and characters surreal, but ill-suited to those who want to spend an afternoon to read: often, you have to re-read in order, to understand the connections, and for
the stylistic quality of the work very high, suitable to readers who love the genre and very weaned.

Pietro De Palma

1 comment:

  1. I love Allingham's Campion books - this is one of the few I have yet to read - glad to hear that is up to her high standards.