I often seem to be in the mood for reading mysteries at this time of year and as this one had been on my TBR for months, I found myself reaching for it the week before Christmas. I had read Margery Allingham before – one of her standalones, The White Cottage Mystery, which I enjoyed – and was curious to make the acquaintance of her most famous character, Albert Campion. Mystery Mile is the second in the Campion series, but I had been assured that it wouldn’t matter too much if I didn’t read the books in order.
Mystery Mile opens with an American judge, Crowdy Lobbett, sailing across the Atlantic with his son and daughter, having narrowly escaped several recent attempts on his life. When a further attempt takes place aboard the ship – and is thwarted thanks to a young man with a pet mouse – it is obvious that the gang who want Judge Lobbett dead are still on his trail. On arriving in England, the judge accepts the help of Albert Campion, who brings him to stay with his friends, Biddy and Giles Paget, at their home in Mystery Mile, a small, remote village on the Suffolk coast.
Campion hopes that Judge Lobbett and his children – Marlowe and Isopel – will be safe in the Paget’s house, but when a fortune teller pays a visit and shortly afterwards the village rector is found dead, it becomes clear that they are still not out of danger. Campion and his friends must try to interpret a range of intriguing clues including a red knight from a chess set and a suitcase full of children’s books if they are to solve the mystery and deal with the threat to the judge.
I had mixed feelings about my first Albert Campion novel. I loved the beginning, with the opening scenes on the ship – I thought the way in which Allingham introduced Campion into the story was excellent – and I enjoyed watching the story develop as the group arrived in Mystery Mile and one strange occurrence followed another. The setting is perfect: a mist-shrouded village surrounded by dangerous soft mud which acts like quicksand and a lonely manor house with a garden maze in which it appears that people can disappear without trace. Later, though, when the action moves to London for a while and we meet an assortment of criminals and gang members, the novel loses the quirky country-mystery feel it has at the beginning and I found that the second half of the novel has a very different tone from the first.
As for the character of Albert Campion himself, I couldn’t decide what to think of him! I liked the fact that there is clearly a lot more to him than meets the eye – his relationship with the police is never quite explained, and there are even hints that Albert Campion is not his real name. Although there was something about his constant quips and silly behaviour that I found slightly irritating, I was intrigued because it was obvious that his foolish, flippant public persona is designed to hide his true thoughts and his true intelligence. I can see why he is sometimes compared with Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but based on what I’ve read of both so far, I prefer Sayers and Wimsey. Still, I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series and to meeting Albert Campion again!