British mystery author and creator of the detective Albert CAMPION, who first appears in The Crime at Black Dudley (1929). She went on to produce a series of books about him that, while relatively few in number compared with the output of some of her contemporaries, are of very high quality.
The Crime at Black Dudley was not Allingham's first published writing; born into a literary family, she published her first story when she was eight years old and her first novel at nineteen (Blackkerchief Dick, 1923). The novel, it was rumored, had been communicated to the writer by dead pirates during seances. Allingham's mother and father were cousins, and both had literary backgrounds. Herbert John Allingham edited the Christian Globe and later wrote pulp fiction; Emily Allingham wrote for women's magazines-and an aunt founded the film magazine, Picture Show.
In her youth, Margery Allingham studied drama and speech as a treatment for her stammering, which was cured. Thereafter she began to write plays. Her first effort in the genre for which she would become famous was The White Cottage Mystery (1927), which was serialized in the Daily Express.She was married to Philip Youngman Carter, an artist and one-time editor of the Tatler, in the same year that her first mystery appeared. Her new husband designed the cover for it, and for most of her later books. Youngman would also complete her last mystery after her death, Cargo of Eagles (1968), and then went on to write two more Campion mysteries by himself.
Along with such writers as CHRISTIE, MARSH, and SAYERS, Allingham was one of those who defined the GOLDEN AGE of the mystery in Britain. Allingham's stories are considerably more strange than those of her peers, and her detective is more eccentric than either Lord Peter WIMSEY or Hercule POIROT. Early on he was often perceived to be a parody of the former, but he "matured" into a great detective in his own right. Campion is only a peripheral character (as well as a suspect) in The Crime at Black Dudley; in Mystery Mile (1929) he becomes the focus. His servant and assistant is Magersfontein LUGG, an ex-convict.
Allingham matured as a writer in the early thirties, and began to lean more on the quality of her writing and less on the ridiculous trappings of Campionism. In Sweet Danger (1933; U.S. titles Kingdom ofDeath and The Fear Sign), Allingham stresses Campion's "foolish" appearance.
In this case, Campion becomes involved in a quasispy mission for the government; he has to find the heirlooms of the noble family of Averna, a small but strategically placed Balkan country whose titular rulers, the Pontisbrights of West Sussex, are now extinct. Campion poses as the Paladin of Averna in order to get the artifacts, which include a receipt of sorts from Metternich, showing that the British had paid for this territory. The plot represents the extremity of Allingham's romanticism, which was modulated in her very next book, in which
Campion becomes more serious-so much so that in the preface to DEATH OF A GHOST (1934) she felt compelled to explain Campion's personality change.
Allingham's output was lower than that of her contemporaries, and her audience may be smaller because of her idiosyncracy, but her work could be seen as more interesting for the same reasons. She never uses the same formula twice or seems to be merely going through the motions. Some of her finest work was done after World War II, when her production was even slower, though as with Sayers critics disagree rather severely as to which are the best. Allingham's best mystery is THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE (1952), which is more a crime novel than a mystery; among the most curious are THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG (1937), in which a bully from Campion's childhood gets his comeuppance, and Traitor's Purse (1941), a case of AMNESIA.
Many of the other characters in Allingham's books are as sensitive and unique as Campion himself. Death of a Ghost is largely about the painter, Lafcadio, who supposedly died in 1912; his legacy lives on, however, with interesting results. The book has been both praised and criticized for the many pages devoted to exploring the artistic milieu rather than the mystery. Allingham again focused on artistic personalities in Dancers in Mourning (1937), about a persecuted dancer, Jimmy Sutane. It also has a very effective subplot: Campion falls in love with Linda Sutane, Jimmy's wife, a distraction that causes him to make errors in detection. It is interesting that the "romantic subplot" exists entirely in Campion's head, and the book shows to the fullest Allingham's characteristic combination of mystery with portraits of character.
During World War II, the Allingham's home in Essex (an area thought to be a likely site for a German invasion), D'Arcy House, was used to billet two hundred soldiers with their weapons and munitions. Margery Allingham worked in civil defense; her book The Oaken Heart (1941) is a fictionalized account of this episode in her life. After the war, her writing continued to develop, and the last book she completed, The Mind Readers (1965), included a SCIENCE FICTION element.
After Margery Allingham's death from cancer, her husband wrote Mr. Campion's Farthing (1969) and Mr. Campion's Falcon (1970; U.S. title Mr. Campion's Quarry), which show his deep familiarity with the characters and which have been much better rated than most such continuations.