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
Any evening after twelve.
Beer, Light Wines, and Little Pink Cakes.
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.