Traitor’s Purse

TraitorsPurseA detective with amnesia is a pretty good gimmick for a mystery novel. Like any gimmick, it could go badly wrong, but when it works, it works well. It can raise the stakes and put the usually invulnerable detective in a position of weakness, and it can be a way of exploring which aspects of a detective’s skills are so ingrained as to be instinctual. And in the case of Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham, it can cause the detective to reconsider his own identity.

When Albert Campion wakes up in a hospital bed, he has no idea who he is or how he got there. The only thought in his head is the anxiety-inducing word fifteen. He overhears a conversation that leads him to realize that he’s there for “slugging” a police officer, an offense for which he’s likely to hang, and he decides that the only safe course is escape. The novel tells of his efforts to recall who he is and to get to the bottom of the mystery he was investigating.

The earlier Campion novels were adventure stories, rather than whodunits, and Campion himself is an adventurer who puts on a face of amiable goofiness a lot of the time. Like those early novels, this is more of an adventure story than a whodunit–this one focusing on a possible conspiracy of spies. The mystery is solved in a flash near the end; I can’t imagine a reader figuring out what’s going on, although readers who are cleverer than I am might recognize a few bits of misdirection along the way. The series gets more serious as it goes on, and this is the most serious book yet. It’s not without its comic moments, but those are mere moments, rather than lengthy scenes. This is an introspective book in which Campion comes face-to-face with who he is and what he wants.

Much of the novel’s seriousness revolves around Campion’s relationship with Lady Amanda Fitton. Their relationship has been difficult to define, to put it mildly, and Amanda takes steps in this book that force Campion to confront how he feels about her. As glad as I was about this development, I wish Amanda had appeared a few more times to give the courtship time to cook before a definite move was made. This is her third appearance, and the possibility of genuine romance was hinted at in the previous books, but this book was the first time that it seemed serious. Amanda is a great character, and I think she and Campion make a great couple, but I’m not sure I would have thought so had I not known from the start where the relationship was going (partly because I read this and some of the later Campion books several years ago). Still, I’m glad she’s going to be around more. It gives me something to look forward to in future books.

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10 Responses to Traitor’s Purse

  1. I listened to this on audio over 10 years ago (back in the days of audiobooks on cassettes!) and remember really liking it. Its the only Albert Campion story I’ve read.

    • Teresa says:

      This is one of the only Campion stories that I know I read before making a concerted effort to read them all. So far, it’s one of the best. (I think Sweet Danger is my favorite.)

  2. Lisa says:

    I thought the amnesia was handled really well in this book. It seems like such an anxious book to me, as Campion is trying to figure out so many things, juggling them all and trying frantically to catch up. And then poor old Lugg, so hurt at being forgotten! You do make me want to read it again.

  3. heavenali says:

    I do like the sound of this one, I haven’t read that many Campion novels, although I do love these old fashioned mystery type novels.

  4. Ed says:

    I have re-read this one recently and really enjoyed it all over again. I had also recently read “The 39 Steps” and saw a few similarities. Both are about wartime conspiracies (WWI in the 39 Steps). Both have a mysterious clue, “The 39 Steps” in one, and “15” in Traitor’s Purse.

    Amnesia can be an overly convenient device for writers (and movie makers) but I think it was handled really well here, especially allowing Campion to see himself and others from a different perspective.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree about how well the amnesia was handled. It enhances the mystery in an entertaining way while leading to significant character growth.

  5. JaneGS says:

    Actually, this sounds absolutely wonderful. I like the idea of waking up with an anxiety about a number…and where that might lead. I’m about to embark on Allingham this year, not having read anything by her yet.

    • Teresa says:

      This would be a good one to start with, although the character development is even better if you read Sweet Danger first. (Fashion in Shrouds is another good one for the relationship with Amanda, but I have to add a caveat that Campion is pretty odious in it.)

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