This is the fifth of Margery Allingham’s Golden Age mysteries about Albert Campion and the fourth that I’ve read and reviewed here at Shelf Love. I feel like I could say pretty much the same thing about this one that I’ve said about all the earlier ones. Campion’s goofiness continues to amuse me, and the fact that it masks a formidable intellect makes it all the more appealing. He’s like Lord Peter Wimsey meets The Doctor, and I am all over that. He’s always having such a good time in the novels, and it makes me feel like having a good time too, even when the mystery itself is a little fuzzy, which was the case in this book.
Also, this book, like the others before it, is more adventure story than proper mystery. It’s helpful to remember that Campion calls himself an adventurer, rather than a detective. This particular adventure involves the disputed inheritance of a title and a small European state. It’s all rather over-the-top from beginning to end, and some of the details are hazy, especially in the beginning. What I realized in reading this book, however, is that Campion himself is the real mystery. We readers never quite know what he’s up to. Why is he pretending to be the ruler of a small Eastern European country? Does he really have a toothache? Why does he suddenly leave a legacy to a young woman he just met? And who is he calling at that insurance office, and why is he wearing a skirt?
The young woman, by the way, is Amanda Fitton, who runs the mill in the small town of Pontisbright, where most of the book takes place. Besides running the mill, Amanda is also a scientist and inventor—and she may be the only character who can keep up with what Campion’s doing. I liked Amanda, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her. (I read enough of Allingham’s later novels years ago to know she’ll show up again.)
I don’t believe I’ve written much about Campion’s valet/butler, Magersfontein Lugg. If Campion is a Lord Peter Wimsey knock-off, Lugg is not a Bunter analogue. At all. He’s a former thief and tends to be petulant and surly. Campion mocks him mercilessly sometimes, but I think (hope?) that it’s affectionate mocking, or at least part of his persona. I often get the impression that Campion and Lugg don’t like each other much, but it’s hard to know how much of that is put on. It’s something I want to watch more closely as I read the later books because this relationship is so different from the employer/valet relationships we see in so much fiction from the period.
This novel was also published under the titles Kingdom of Death and Fear Sign.