Review: The Tiger in the Smoke and Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
“The fog was like a saffron blanket soaked in ice-water. It had hung over London all day.” – The Tiger in the Smoke
In concluding the past two months of reviews on books that can be largely categorized as suspense, I will close with two of Margery Allingham’s most famous novels—Traitor’s Purse and The Tiger in the Smoke– both of which feature her popular detective, Albert Campion.
Margery Allingham is considered to belonged to what is now described as “the golden age” of detective fiction. Frankly, this discovery surprised me as after reading two of her most popular “detective” novels, I did not find them falling into the typical murder mystery genre. Mystery certainly abounds, but these books are much more about suspense than the classic “whodunit.” In fact, in The Tiger in the Smoke, there is never any question of who the murderer is, and the victims are rather inconsequential and are easy to forget about in the overall plot. This is certainly not meant as a critique, however, as I found these two samples of her work as charming as they are engaging.
While Traitor’s Purse falls in line as number 11 in the Albert Campion series, it was luckily my first. The novel opens with Campion waking up in a hospital room with severe amnesia, and it was a fascinating read to experience the amnesia with the protagonist. Campion has no clue to anything in his life before that moment… and nor did I. He does not know his own name until someone calls him by it; that was new information to me as well. His only semblance of a memory is the intense impression that something cataclysmic will occur unless he stops it. I thus journeyed with him as he rediscovered the friends and colleagues upon whom his life centered. The unintended benefit of piecing his life together as well as the mysterious mission upon which the future of the British nation hangs by a thread only added to both the mystery and the suspense elements of the novel.
It was also a fascinating study of his character, as Campion must also rediscover what sort of person he is. Having no preconceived ideas about this myself, I too was able to examine his associates and the treatment he received from them to form an opinion of his actions hitherto. The mission aside, Campion is finally faced with the evidence that he is probably not all he should be to the people closest to him; his growing dismay at the portrait of himself forming before him indicates that his memory loss will be a pivotal experience for his life and relationships going forward, provided that he does eventually regain his memory and that the consequences of his former habitual actions are not irreversable.
The Tiger in the Smoke is volume 13 in Campion’s chronicles. While there are many small side mysteries along the way (which mercifully do not wait until the end of the novel for resolution), the main thrust of the plot is a man-hunt for a murdering sociopath on the loose in the fog-obscured London. The fog itself plays as a central character in the drama, as it is due to the haze that the killer can remain loose for so long. In Alexander McCall Smith’s introduction to the 2013 Folio Society edition, he writes,
“Margery Allingham’s achievement is to combine an atmospheric account of London in the post-war period with both strong and vivid characterization and considerable dramatic tension. The atmosphere of London is painted with an accomplished brush… The fog, curling about corners and penetrating doorways and basements, is always there: an ideal medium for Havoc, the psychopathic murderer, to sneak about it.”
Allingham’s writing is superb and was one of the elements I most actively enjoyed in reading these two books. She transports readers back to 1940s Britain in earnest and recreates a world that readers will not wish to leave, albeit one that they appreciate not living in at that precise suspenseful moment in time.
As always with Folio Society editions, both of these books were beautifully published with excellent commissioned illustrations.
For the next two months, check back for reviews on Christmas gift suggestions!