Sunday, 1 February 2009
Traitor's Purse by Marjory Allingham
Hastily grabbing books for the regular monthly train journeys, yesterday, a last-minute impulse was to continue my reading of all the Campion books by crime-writer Marjory Allingham, which meant firing up the desktop to check where on the list I am. I have the Marjory Allingham Society website bookmarked, so it was a matter of moments to whizz through and find that officially the next on the list would be The Fashion in Shrouds, which I read fairly recently. I'll re-read it, but I didn't want to take it away with me when I had one of the relatively few unread books to hand, so Traitor's Purse was safely stashed in my bag when I set off. It remained there for the first half of the journey, at which point I succumbed, and I am sorry to report that last night I stayed up until I finished it (quite conveniently, as my hotel neighbour came in late and ran a very loud bath). The main reason, though, was that I simply couldn't put it down.
It's not an easy book to write about without giving too much away. It opens with a hospital patient, who is clearly suffering from concussion, hearing a nurse and policeman outside his door discussing the death of a policeman and the capture of his assailant; although he has no recollection of how he has come to be there, it dawns on the patient he must be the murderer, and that he must escape because, what ever he has done, he has a sense that something of immense importance remains to be done. Faithful Campion fans, of course, are immediately aware that the amnesiac is Campion himself, and the poignancy of the moment when we recognise Lady Amanda Fitton, and he fails to, creates a real frisson.
The relationship between Campion and Amanda (first encountered in Sweet Danger) is under strain in this novel, and this is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Between them lies a minefield of potential misunderstanding, and each must tread delicately if they are not to destroy the easy camaraderie that they both treasure. Allingham handles this with great skill, and there are some lovely - and plausible - moments where Campion faces an unpalatable future with less than his usual aplomb. Interestingly - and appropriately for the character - although the story is told in the third person, we gain much greater insight into Campion's personality than in an earlier novel and (I think) some of the stories which are told by the man himself.
Traitor's Purse may well prove to be a contender for my favourite Campion. I wish I'd managed to spin it out for a further, pleasurable day (and it's left me with a book crisis which I shall have to address in the next 24 hours). It does rather remind me, too, that I don't have very many left to read now - especially since I haven't tried yet to find the short story collections - so that it won't be long before Campion has to be set aside for a year or two. Before that, though, there is at least a reacquaintance with the television series, for which I have always had a sneaking affection, and which, with my usual altruism where bookish things are concerned, I bought my husband for Christmas.