Classics in September — Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham – Originally published in 1933, Sweet Danger was the fifth book in the Campion series. Allingham first introduced us to her mysterious sleuth in a country house murder mystery entitled The Crime at Black Dudley, back in 1929. Albert appears as a gate crasher at a house party, during which the host’s uncle, Colonel Gordon Coombe, is dispatched in the night. Campion went on to feature in 17 novels in his own right and more than 20 short stories – an enduring classic in British crime fiction.
Sweet Danger opens with Campion’s friend Guffy Randall arriving at the Hotel Beauregard to the rather unusual sight of a small man in a brown suit climbing out a bedroom window and hot footing it down the road, case in hand. If that wasn’t odd enough, he enters the hotel to find its proprietor beside himself with concern over the strange behaviour of several of his guests. To Guffy’s surprise, the guests in question are three friends of his using pseudonyms – Jonathan Eager-Wright, Dicky Farquharson, Albert Campion, and Albert’s manservant, Magersfontein Lugg. Why is Campion pretending to be the Hereditary Paladin of Averna? Where on earth is Averna anyway? Therein lies the mystery.
Our sleuth has been commissioned to prove that a little-known principality on the Adriatic belongs to an aristocratic family now living on their uppers, and running a mill in an English village. With Guffy joining the team, the quartet head to Pontisbright in Suffolk and take up residence with the family, posing as tourists. It’s a tale of hidden documents, a loony village doctor and a dangerous adversary by the name of Brett Savernake who is keen to get hold of the proof before Campion or the present heir, Hal Fitton.
There’s also an element of mystery about Albert Campion himself, which runs through the entire series as we never actually learn his real name. All we’re ever told about him is that he comes from a prominent British family. Although he’s an affable chap with plenty of friends who are willing to help him when called upon, he’s a past master at the blank, unintelligent expression that gives no clue as to what he’s thinking – something that proves particularly useful with an adversary like Brett Savernake.
What I particularly enjoyed about the book was the faint glimmer of humour that makes the corners of your mouth twitch. PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster sprang to mind on more than one occasion with all the ‘what ho-ing’, but although there’s a missing treasure box to find, there’s not a cow creamer in sight, and Lugg isn’t exactly your conventional idea of a gentleman’s valet, but his antics do have you quietly chuckling to yourself. Whilst it’s not necessarily the gem in the series, it certainly makes for an entertaining read.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars