The China Governess

ChinaGovernessJulia and Timothy are determined to get married, despite her father’s objections. But Timothy wants to wait until he can figure out the secret behind his parentage. He was brought to the Kinnit home as a baby as London was being evacuated during World War II and the Kinnits were taking in evacuees. The woman who brought him left, and the Kinnits made him one of their own, never learning where he came from.

The one piece of information about Timothy’s origin connects him to Turk Street, once known as “the wickedest street in London.” As the book opens, the East End neighborhood is being restored, but not without complications. Most recently, a burglar has broken into and torn apart a new flat, leaving nothing in it intact. The damage was so severe and malicious that one of the flat’s owners died of the shock.

This late Albert Campion novel by Margery Allingham doesn’t include much of Campion himself, and his role in solving the crime is fairly minor. He seems mostly to serve as someone for the primary players to talk to, bringing them together so they can make connections they might not have noted on their own. Much of the plot really involves people making connections, noticing small resemblances and unlikely coincidences.

Connections are also an important thematic element, as biological and social connections are behind much of the conflict in the book. How important are those biological connections? Is it possible to escape a dark family legacy? Issues of class come into play here, as Timothy has been adopted into an upper-class family but may come from a less respectable home. But respectability isn’t just about money, as the Kinnits have dark secrets in their past.

On the whole, this mystery is rather bland compared to many of Allingham’s other books. It doesn’t have the madcap silliness of the early books, and it doesn’t have the atmosphere of The Tiger in the Smoke. Campion has little to do, and although Lugg is present as his usual entertaining self, Amanda is entirely absent (always a shame). The ending, however, is well done. The way Allingham has her characters react to the truth is surprising and rather touching. Detective stories are so often focused on using the truth to set everything to rights, but sometimes the truth makes things worse. The way the characters work out how to deal with their old bonds after uncovering new information about their pasts is probably the part of the book that will stick with me most.

This entry was posted in Classics, Fiction, Mysteries/Crime. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The China Governess

  1. heavenali says:

    I have this one tbr and have been thinking about reading it quite soon.

  2. westwoodrich says:

    Not one of my favourites, but I thought there was still a lot to enjoy. I think Allingham got quite experimental towards the end of her career – the crime element in this one is barely there at all.

    • Teresa says:

      Yeah, the crime, such as it is, sort of solved itself, too. But the crime is often not the best part of her books, so it wasn’t a fatal flaw.

  3. Lisa says:

    It took me a couple of tries to get into this book, but I remember in the end liking it more than I expected. With both this one & Tether’s End, it seems like Campion sort of faded into the background. I haven’t been able to face the next book, which is apparently about mind-readers?

    • Teresa says:

      I accidentally skipped Tether’s End/Hide My Eyes, but I’m getting it from the library at some point. (As I mentioned on Twitter, my copy was incredibly smelly, and I couldn’t read it.) The Mind Readers is the last one that she wrote, isn’t it?

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