Friday’s Forgotten Book: Coroner’s Pidgin by Margery Allingham

I was enthralled with Albert Campion when I first encountered him many years ago. His creator Margery Allingham wrote 17 books about him beginning in 1929. I’ve re-read them often and find that the earlier ones seem to wear better than the later ones. I have not tried any of the series titles completed by Allingham’s husband after her death or by Mike Ripley. Initially Campion was a clear imitation of Lord Peter Wimsey, a character I liked in his own right. Both were dilettante upper-class investigators, with a feigned inanity shielding great intelligence.  As Britain’s involvement in World War II grew, Campion shed his socialite persona and seemed to take on the role of an undercover agent.

In Coroner’s Pidgin (William Heineman, 1945), published in the United States as Pearls Before Swine (Doubleday Doran, 1945), Campion returns to London after a long stint overseas providing unspecified support to England’s war effort. He stops in his London apartment long enough to take a leisurely bath before catching a train to his country house where he left his wife Amanda three years ago.

Hearing noises from outside the bathroom door, he assumes his manservant, reformed thief Lugg, has arrived but is startled to hear feminine voices as well. With no bathrobe he wraps himself in towels and slides into his bedroom to dress to meet the owners of the voices and discovers a corpse in his bed. A corpse that was not there when he ran his bath fifteen minutes earlier. Upon inquiry he learns that Lugg and Edna, Dowager Marchioness of Carados, took it upon themselves to move the body of an unknown woman that they found in the Carados house to avoid publicity. Unfortunately they were observed and now the quiet disposal they’d planned has gone awry.

In no time at all Campion misses his train and is up to his ears in a murder investigation involving an admiral, the Marchioness, a well-known actress, an RAF hero, and the owner of the most popular restaurant in London. Not my favorite plot, which is a little too frenetic for my taste and relies far too much on happenstance, but perhaps among my favorites because of the bombshell ending.

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