I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
Dancers in Mourning – Margery Allingham
Full disclosure, so you can stop reading soon if I’m too unpleasant. Here is my rating of the mistresses of whodunnits in order of worst to first: Dame Agatha, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Moyes, and for my bestie, Margery Allingham. Reasons why: Dame Agatha doesn’t do anything for me as to characterization or setting, both of which I need even a modicum; Lord Peter is a nitwit and Harriet unbearable; Marsh is wickedly funny, with believable atmospheres; Moyes is cozy in a good way, with realistic settings; and Marsh is the best writer in terms of characterization, incident, and theme.
Hello? Anybody left? Wasn’t “insufferable Professor Vane” in the Xmas spirit?
Dancers in Mourning, from 1937, is the 8th mystery to feature her series hero, Albert Campion. Born in 1900, he served in only the last six months of the Great War. The experience may have aged him beyond his years, because though only in his thirties, he slips out of his bland inoffensive manner to reveal the inborn authority and poise of the natural aristocrat that impresses even the police. Allingham is ever aware of the double-edged use of snobbery, so she sometimes coyly hints at his title while Campion doesn’t much think about it at all.
Like the later novel The Fashion in Shrouds, Dancers in Mourning takes us into a seemingly romantic, stylish world, that of the boards of musical comedy. Star of the fantastic toe, Jimmy Sutane, has made a massive hit out of the unintentionally silly memoir by Campion’s old buddy, “Uncle” William Faraday whom we met in Police at the Funeral (1931).
Uncle William calls Campion for a consultation because somebody is playing nasty practical jokes on Jimmy Sutane. The sheer number of the jibes and their creepy malice have rattled the dancers, who, like many loosely-educated creative types, are as superstitious as medieval peasants. Back at Sutane’s country house, Sutane’s wife Linda is also agitated because strangers have been gamboling in their garden in the middle of the night.
Allingham, for a little snob appeal, takes us out to the country house, of course. But, she assures us who don’t have the snob gene, it’s hardly an idyllic place. It’s a treadmill where the master rehearses new acts, cajoles money guys, oversees auditions, and soothes temperaments. Jimmy Sutane feels pressure to succeed because so many people depend on his coming up with another hit show. Consequently, his life is nothing but work and a parade of ambitious stressed people. Allingham makes a serious point about the hazards of allowing work and the demands of other people to consume all of one’s life.
Dancer and singer Chloe, slightly past her prime, squeezes an invitation out of Linda. But Chloe’s sudden death makes a chaotic household more or less unbearable. Was it suicide or a natural death? During the investigation, Campion finds himself falling in love with Linda. Campion exasperates himself by doing so, making him a very likable guy. Allingham handles this romance plausibly, and it fits right into the story.