Friday, 3 July 2015

Forgotten Book - The Case of the Late Pig

The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham was first published in 1937, and I suppose there is room for debate as to whether it really qualifies as a Forgotten Book. After all, Allingham's reputation has survived much better than that of many Golden Age writers, and the Margery Allingham Society is a flourishing body, with an excellent journal and a range of activities for members. What I can say is that this is a short novel (it began life as a paperback original, and a UK hardback edition didn't appear for more than a quarter of a century) which definitely deserves to be remembered. It offers more entertainment than many much longer efforts.

An unusual feature of the book is that it's narrated by Albert Campion. An ambitious move on Allingham's part, I think, because Great Detectives aren't naturally suited to recounting their own cases - Sherlock Holmes seems to me to have been a noticeably less effective narrator than Dr Watson, for instance. It's maddening enough when a sleuth (Poirot, for example) declines to tell his sidekick whom he suspects and why. The risk of frustrating the reader is much greater when the detective is actually telling the story. Christie was wise, I think, not to have Poirot or Miss Marple act as narrators. Perhaps Allingham was experimenting -she did not repeat this particular experiment in another novel. And yet here, I think, she gets away with it, and does so rather stylishly.

A mysterious unsigned missive persuades Campion to attend the funeral of the late and unlamented "Pig" Peters, with whom he was at school. But the plot really starts to thicken five months later, when Campion returns to the splendidly named village of Kepesake. There has been another death - but this time, once again, the deceased is Pig Peters. What on earth is going on?

This is a splendid village mystery, neatly plotted and with plenty of twists. It's a very good example of Allingham's technical skill as a writer - she was able to vary her approach with much more flair and success than most Golden Age novelists, and this is, surely, one of the reasons why her work has lasted so well. I enjoyed The Case of the Late Pig - and the TV version, starring Peter Davison as Campion, which I saw some time ago, isn't at all bad, either.

9 comments:

R.K. Robinson said...

I have several of her books on shelf but unread and this is one. Your review urges me to move it to the to-be-read area, and place it near the top. Thanks as always, Martin.

Joe Barone said...

Thanks. I ordered this for my Kindle. It sounded interesting.

Don Coffin said...

It must be 25 years since I read this one (and, in clearing out the bookshelves when I retired, a let go of Allingham's--and Marsh's--books). But I just bought an ebook version of this...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Allingham is growing on me more and more, I must say. And there's no doubt that she remains one of the most popular Golden Age authors

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book, and I have always thought that it was a parody of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books. Those are also told in the first person (by Bertie Wooster), and in this book Lugg is filling the place of Jeeves.

Graham Powell said...

The episode of the Campion series made from this story was wonderful - in fact, the whole series was wonderful. I think my favorite moment was in Part 2 of one of the episodes, when Campion begins to recap the previous episode in voice-over. Then we see him, at the wheel of his car, actually saying this out loud. When he's done his passenger blinks in confusion and says, "Yes - but I know all that already!"

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Graham. I've not seen that particular episode, but I'll look out for it - I do have the box set!

Paul Taylor-Greaves said...

Campion was a tremendous TV series, cut down by short-sighted TV execs (much like The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries). The Case of the Late Pig was the first Campion book I read *coughcough* years ago and, even though there are better books in the series, remains my go-to favourite.

Paul Taylor-Greaves said...

Campion was a tremendous TV series, cut down by short-sighted TV execs (much like The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries). The Case of the Late Pig was the first Campion book I read *coughcough* years ago and, even though there are better books in the series, remains my go-to favourite.