The Gyrth Chalice Mystery

My sadness at knowing that I only have one Lord Peter Wimsey novel left to read (The Five Red Herrings—not a very good one, I’m told) is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that I’ve hardly read any of Margery Allingham’s novels about the rather Wimsey-esque sleuth Albert Campion. And those that I’ve read, I remember so vaguely that I may as well just read them all.

After reading Mystery Mile, the second Campion novel, and the first in which he appears as a major character, I thought it would be fun to read the rest in order, so I could see how Campion develops as a character. The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (also known as Look to the Lady) has Campion helping prevent the theft of a precious medieval chalice that’s been in the possession of the Gyrth family for centuries. Like Mystery Mile, this novel is more of a crime thriller than a whodunit. There’s no parade of suspects or clues to sort through. It’s mostly just Campion gallivanting from one place to another, one step ahead of everyone, until the criminal gets ahead of him.

It’s been said that Campion was written as a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey, but in this book, he reminded me of no one so much as The Doctor of Dr. Who fame. He takes that same childish glee in life, has the same surprising intelligence, and shows the same flashes of vulnerability (and it just so happens that Peter Davison has played both characters). Campion is the sort of man who would refer to himself as “Uncle Albert” and leave someone a calling card that says,

Mr Albert Campion
At Home
Any evening after twelve.
Improving Conversation.
Beer, Light Wines, and Little Pink Cakes.
Do come.

I don’t know why, but the mention of “Little Pink Cakes” just kills me. Anyway, this card is presented to Val Gyrth, the next in line to inherit the chalice, by Campion’s servant, the wonderfully named Magersfontein Lugg. It’s this card that gets the ball rolling. From almost the start, Campion seems to be in control of the entire affair. He continues to smart off even in the midst of being robbed. But when he gets serious, everyone stops and listens. And when he gets taken by surprised or even seems frightened, the book becomes impossible to put down.

The crime plot itself ends up involving an international crime ring, gypsies, a ghostly spector in the woods, a witch’s spell, a mad horse, a woman with a whip, a secret room, and a perilous climb down a tower. Loads and loads of excitement, in other words. It is lots of fun, and I can see that Campion has great potential to grow on me.

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13 Responses to The Gyrth Chalice Mystery

  1. Lisa says:

    It would be very interesting to read them in order. I’ve just read them as I’ve come across them, so wildly out of order. There is such variety in the Campion stories, compared with the Lord Peter stories, probably in part because there are so many more Campions. He is having such a good time in The Gyrth Chalice Mystery that he carries everything along with him – I think it’s one of the funnest.

    • Teresa says:

      I read several years ago, just as I ran across them, also very much out of order, and it was so long ago that I hardly remember them. I’m interested to see how the character develops because right now, he feels like a goofball, but one with something brewing underneath.

  2. I’m trying to diversify my mystery reading and this book seems perfect.

  3. sakura says:

    I love Campion! You’re right, he does have a marked resemblance to Wimsey, but then I think he comes into his own later in the series which also gets darker (from what I remember). I’ve read a few of Allingham’s novels but I don’t think I’ve read this one. There’s also a tv series.

    • Teresa says:

      I think the few books I read before were later, and he didn’t seem all that Wimsey-esque in those, but I can absolutely see it here and in Mystery Mile.

      I sampled a bit of the series on Netflix a while back but didn’t get very far, and now it’s not available. It’s a bummer, because they looked great.

  4. Jenny says:

    Obviously I will be intrigued by any passing comparison to the Doctor. :p But it’s nice to hear it about these books! I knew of Margery Allingham from Elizabeth Peters’ mentioning her, but I haven’t read any of her books. I think I tried to read one of them and didn’t love it. I want to, though, and I like the little pink cakes thing, so I’m going to try again soon.

  5. Audrey says:

    I wasn’t as enamored of my first two Campions as I hoped to be {I read an early one at random and then went back and found the first one), but your description is so enticing that I think I’ll give him another try. I did love the {different} calling card in the book I read, not that I can remember what it said. :) Maybe less silly will be better?

    • Teresa says:

      I liked the silliness, and I’ll be interested to see what I think when the books get more serious. Maybe the thing to do is read a later one and see how that goes.

  6. Katrina says:

    I enjoyed this one too. I didn’t like Campion much to begin with, but he has grown on me. Originally she gave him a silly high-pitched voice which I think was a mistake because there’s nothing more off-putting in a man – well not much! If you haven’t read anything by Josephine Tey you might like to give her a go.

    • Teresa says:

      Ha! Yes, his voice can seem a little strange—and even more so in Mystery Mile—but when I imagined him as The Doctor it clicked.

      I really want to read more Tey. I loved Daughter of Time but haven’t gotten around to any of her others.

  7. Kathie says:

    Who guarded the chalice, do you think?

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