“It was a little after four o’clock in the evening when Jerry Challoner swung his sports car smartly round the bend in the Kentish road and slid quietly through the village street.”
Back in the late 1980s, when I was but a tadpole, Margery Allingham’s most famous creation, gentleman detective Albert Campion, was brought to life for TV. A few years ago I managed to catch a repeat viewing, and still remain absolutely charmed by the portrayal and the period setting.
Fast forward to this week, and having always meant to track down some of Allingham’s books, I was delighted to see The White Cottage Mystery on NetGalley. In need of a break from another rather heavy-going (and very long!) book, this slim volume seemed like the perfect antidote!
The biggest plus for this book, for me, is the period setting. Head full of accents and costumes from the related TV show, and with turns of phrase (“I say, can’t I give you a lift?”) one certainly doesn’t hear on the streets of Edinburgh in this day and age, the late 1920s seemed like a jolly marvellous, hockey sticks and ginger beer (lashings of) kind of a place for a (mental) vacation.
Stumbling by chance into a crime scene, Jerry Challoner calls his detective father, WT, to handle the case of a murdered man, shot in his neighbour’s dining room. The problem becomes not so much one of identifying a suspect, but rather, whittling down the pool – it seems that everyone hated the dead man. No one seems shy of telling that to a detective, either, leaving WT and Jerry somewhat baffled as to which of the neighbours and employees is lying about the murder – because all of them seem to be lying about something.
White Cottage is not a long book, and indeed most of the action takes place between the immediate post-murder interviews, before a jaunt across the Channel to Paris. As the Challoners pick on the thread of the murder mystery, it turns out that there’s a long web of deceits between them and the answer.
While I guessed at the ‘whodunnit’ quite early, I still enjoyed my little sojourn in the relatively un-gritty 1920s. My only real disappointment was reading the few, outdated ‘women and their silly little brains’-type comments from a female author. Aside from the shame of that, I’ll be ferreting out more of Ms Allingham’s work the way WT tracked down the murderer!
NetGalley eArc: ~168 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1927
Read from 24th-26th May 2016
My rating: 6/10