The main thing to remember in autobiography, I have always thought, is not to let any damned modesty creep in to spoil the story. This adventure is mine, Albert Campion’s, and I am fairly certain that I was pretty nearly brilliant in it in spite of the fact that I so nearly got myself and old Lugg killed that I hear a harp quintet whenever I consider it.
The Case of the Late Pig is the eighth of Margery Allingham’s adventure novels featuring Albert Campion. I say adventure novels, rather than mysteries, because the more of these that I read, the more I’m convinced that these books are not meant to be read as whodunits. Some of the crimes in the books are more solvable than others, but Allingham holds back too much and makes the crimes too tricksy for solving them to be the point. They’re clever suspense stories with an entertaining hero, and this book is no exception. Note that Campion himself, in the opening lines to the novel quoted above, calls this an adventure.
Interestingly, a Guardian article published this week reveals that Agatha Christie thought Allingham is more interested in character than in plot. Although this particular crime does end with something of a bombshell, rather than the flat and inevitable conclusion Christie said characterized many of Allingham’s novels, I quite agree that the characters are the main point of interest here. And they’re interesting in a different way than the characters in, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novels. At this point anyway, Campion hasn’t developed the layers that Wimsey is known for. He’s more of a madcap loon with hidden depths that have yet to be plumbed. (I always think of him as The Doctor solving crimes.)
For the first (and I believe last) time in the Campion novels, Campion himself narrates this story. Campion is a delightful character, and it’s fun to get inside his head for a while. However, the fact that Campion narrates the story makes it all the more evident that Allingham holds back on clues and information that readers might use to solve the crime. I think Campion tells us everything he knows, but there’s plenty he suspects that we don’t learn about until after the fact. What’s nice is seeing his genuine distress about endangering Lugg, his manservant with whom he has a comically contentious relationship. And we also see how oblivious he can be to the attentions of the women around him when he’s on a case and how this obliviousness leads to disappointment when the case is over.
So with all this dithering, you’re probably wondering what exactly the story is about. The
mystery adventure centers on one of Campion’s school classmates, Pig Peters, a man who seems unable to die and stay dead. First, he dies of natural causes, and Campion attends his funeral. Six months later, Campion is called in to investigate the death of Pig Peters, now going by a different name and just recently killed by a massive stone urn that fell off the top of a building where he was staying. There are anonymous notes, an array of suspects, additional victims, new dangers, obscure bits of knowledge, and all the other trappings of a crime novel. A solid and fun little adventure, told well.