Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review - Margery Allingham's The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Bloomsbury Reader
Publication Date: 1928
Format: Kindle, 168 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jerry Challenor is driving slowly to London. Taking the sleepy back roads and obscure thoroughfares. He is in no hurry, so when he sees an attractive girl alight from a bus with a large burden, he offers her a ride home. She lives at the White Cottage, which is very close at hand. After he drops the girl off he notices that the weather is in for a change and he stops to put the roof up on his convertible and gets to chatting to the local policeman. While relaxing by the side of the road the two men hear the report of a gunshot. They rush to the White Cottage, but someone is dead.

As it happens, Jerry's father is the famous Detective Chief Inspector W.T. Challenor, and Jerry calls him in to handle this mysterious murder. The victim is one Eric Crowther who lived next to the White Cottage in the grey monstrosity, the Dene. No one morns his passing. Every single person who knew him wanted him dead and everyone in the house had means and motive. The shotgun that did the deed was in the corner of the dining room, so anyone could have wandered in and blown him away. For personal reasons Jerry hopes fervently that it is not Norah, the attractive girl he gave a lift to. W.T. is baffled. He could easily arrest anyone in the house with circumstantial evidence, but it's the truth he wants. With Jerry in tow, W.T. heads to the continent and tracks down every lead he can think of... but will he ever make an arrest?

Someone at the BBC needs to make this into a movie right now! This would make a wonderful adaptation, much in the vein of the recent retelling of The Lady Vanishes with Tuppence Middleton. I'm picturing Laurence Fox as the lovestruck son Jerry and his real life father, James Fox, for W.T. Challenor. Perhaps Jenna-Louise Coleman as Norah? I'm telling you, it would be awesome. There was just something so fresh and vital about this story that I can see it appealing to anyone with a love of British period dramas and murder mysteries.

After having rather a rocky go of it with Dorothy L. Sayers, I was starting to become a little leery of my "Golden Summer" scheme. What if all these other hallowed authors where of the same ilk? Great as precursors, as proto-mysteries, as a jumping off point for later authors, but lacking that something that made them timeless and a great read till this day (Agatha Christie is exempt from these thoughts because she is awesome). What if the "Golden Age" wasn't really that golden? Thankfully The White Cottage Mystery has changed my mind and just hardened my heart to Dorothy L. Sayers. Unlike Sayers who fills her books with nonsense and ramblings, there was something so clean and spare to Margery Allingham's book that I wanted to give her book a great big hug. Not literally, because I think that might shatter my Kindle. No nonsense, no fluff, just a great whodunit that reminded me on more then one occasion of the great short stories that Daphne Du Maurier is known for. The style and turn of phrase, not to mention the setting were reminiscent of Du Maurier. And trust me, this is a true compliment from me if I'm comparing Allingham to Du Maurier.

Like Du Maurier and her obsession with the Brontes, Margery Allingham has created in Eric Crowther a character with some very interesting Bronte overtones. It's almost as if Allingham wanted to create a character as psychologically manipulative, hostile, and threatening as Heathcliff and then gleefully kill him. The fact that Crowther, through his machinations and games, is able to keep not only good people in line, but evil degenerates, shows the force of his character. He is an evil man and I echo the sentiments of Jerry that perhaps his death was an "act of God." As for the murderer... well... wait till you get to the final chapter of this lean mean mystery. My faith has been restored by this "act of God" and I will now pick up the first Campion mystery, not with cringing hands, but with a joyful song in my heart.


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