Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Allingham Minibus - Margery Allingham

This collection was put together after Margery Allingham died and brings together a number of miscellaneous pieces that might otherwise have faded into obscurity. As it is, the collection is not that easy to come by and my own is a battered American edition with an Italian price sticker on the back.

Anyone looking for Albert Campion will be disappointed. There are only a couple of stories featuring her near ubiquitous detective and these are both slight tales. There is, however, a feast of other work including a substantial novella. Whilst not her best work, it is an inventive crime tale that might easily have been reworked as one of those Campion novels in which he seems to drift through without doing very much, yet turning up all he information necessary to solve the mystery.

As for the rest, they demonstrate that Allingham was one of those rare authors who writes just as well in the short form as they do at full length. The stories were for magazine publication and many of those in this collection are tales of the supernatural. They do not go for the horror angle, although several of them are genuinely chilling. Rather they provide entertaining tales with a twist that when collected lose a little of their impact as you start looking – although Allingham is astute enough not always to go for the obvious.

What marks them out as great stories is the economy of style. A great deal of characterisation and atmosphere is packed into a few pages, especially in those tales that are set in her beloved Essex. Nothing is wasted, yet they still manage to convey considerable depth. Well worth studying if short stories are your thing. Well worth reading for their entertainment value; and a must at Hallowe’en or Christmas if you want a ghost story for your gathering.