Monday, 26 May 2014

Mr Campion' Farewell by Mike Ripley reviewed by Julia Jones

This would have been the third 'posthumous' Campion novel to have been written by Pip Youngman Carter, widower of the late, great, Margery Allingham. Allingham died in 1966 having completed eighteen varied mystery novels and a number of short stories which star the enigmatic detective Albert Campion. Campion had been created in the late 1920s by Allingham and Youngman Carter in the early days of their marriage. Allingham presented him as “the private joke-figure of we smarter youngsters” and gave her husband generous credit “for encouraging the humour which until then I had always tried to keep out of my work.”

Allingham dictated those early stories: Youngman Carter wrote them down. It was not long, however, before he found more amusing ways to spend his time while she became more serious and more personal in her approach to her novels and to her detective. “As the only life I had to give anyone was my own,” she wrote, “we became very close as time went by.” The character of Campion developed: the novels became less obviously funny, they became richer, darker, odder, more varied and more plangent.

Allingham continued to value her husband's opinion and liked to present the two of them publicly as partners in an “art-and fiction factory”. This was not often true. Nevertheless they were joint directors of a limited company and, when Allingham died, Youngman Carter's immediate task was to complete The Cargo of Eagles, her work in progress. He continued with his own two titles, Mr Campion's Farthing and Mr Campion's Falcon (both recently republished by Ostara) and, when he died in 1969, he left the beginnings of a third. Campion novel. It was no more than a fragment with no indication of character development or plot outline and it is this that Mike Ripley has taken up and completed – admirably.

There's something nasty brewing in the historic wool town of Lindsay Carfax and Superintendent Luke of the C I D persuades his old friend Campion to go down and take a look. Ripley identifies Lindsay Carfax with the Suffolk town of Lavenham and obviously relishes building up the subterranean geography of the place as well as a cast of variously unpleasant, untrustworthy and unstable characters. He claims, modestly, to be following Youngman Carter rather than Allingham herself but he's a more experienced and assured novelist than Youngman Carter ever was. He permits himself a wider range of characters, including (rather daringly) Campion's wife, the flame-haired Lady Amanda and their son, Rupert, with his young wife Perdita, one of Youngman Carter's own new characters. I have my doubts about the self-consciously thespian Rupert and Perdita but can't quibble at all with Ripley's decision to use them for the more physically adventurous chapters of the investigation.

Mr Campion is not longer young. In 1958 Allingham herself wrote a mock interview with Albert Campion in which she identified some of the problems facing an ageing series detective.
“My dear girl,” he said […] How can I?”
“Can you what?” […]
“Hop about. Pull guns and shoot lines […] I mean everyone knows how old I am. You saw to that, fixing it at the same age as the century so we shouldn't get muddled.”

Mr Campion's Farewell is set in the late 1960s / early 70s – the time that it would have been published had Youngman Carter lived to complete it. It has a consciously dated feel which Ripley manages well. Younger characters such Ripley's own Eliza Jane Fitton wear mini-skirts and have sex outside marriage but the seventy-year old Campion is always central to the action – much more so than he had been in most of the later Allinghams. There is no glossing over his infirmity. “He knew he was going to be too late. He was a man who could no longer keep up with his allies, let alone chase his enemies. He was too slow. He was too old.”

Unsurprisingly Ripley's publishers make the most of Allingham's name, announcing that “Margery Allingham's Albert Campion Returns”. It's a tribute to an author when their character becomes a brand. Allingham herself was a lifelong media professional. She knew about writing to an editor's or publisher's requirements to entertain readers and to make money. She called this “left-handed” writing and put her Campion short stories in this category. Her mature Campion novels were “right-handed” – motivated by a need to explore and express personal issues which went beyond the necessity to earn her living.

Youngman Carter's Albert Campion is clearly a “left-handed” creation but what about Mike Ripley's? He's a lifelong Allingham enthusiast and the process of writing a homage can be a very personal exercise in artistic exploration and self-expression. Ripley is not an admirer of the experimental Allingham (The Mind Readers for instance): he prefers the colour, the humour and the panache of early novels such as Look to the Lady and the extraordinary flair for period atmosphere which characterises The Tiger in the Smoke. These qualities are reflected in Mr Campion's Farewell and there's a depth of feeling to his portrayal of the ageing detective.

“'I came to Lindsay Carfax,” said Mr Campion, 'because I was intrigued by what sounded to be a really old-fashioned mystery, the sort of mystery that required an old fashioned adventurer.'
Mr Campion smiled his gentlest smile.
It was and I am. But both of us have had our day.”

Not a heartbeat passes before the publishers' eager announcement: Mr Campion will return in Mr Campion's Fox.

Mr Campion's Farewell was completed by Mike Ripley from an unfinished partial manuscript by Philip Youngman Carter.
Published by Severn House £19.99 1.4. 2014 Currently it's only in hardback. The paperback edition is due 28.8.2014. Currently I have no details about any Kindle edition or other eformat publication but will post information when available. (JJ)

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