The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham

The second death…

😀 😀 😀 😀 

When Albert Campion, gentleman detective, gets an urgent message from an old friend to come to the village of Kepesake, he’s not surprised to learn it’s because there’s been a murder. However, when he comes to view the corpse, he’s more than surprised – he’s shocked! The dead man is “Pig” Peters, a former schoolmate of Campion’s who used to bully the younger boys, including Campion himself. But the shocking thing is that it’s only a few months since Campion attended Peters’ funeral. So how can he possibly be here, freshly dead? And what is the meaning of the cryptic anonymous notes that both Campion and another old schoolmate are receiving?

I haven’t read many of Allingham’s books, mainly because I don’t much like Campion as a detective. Like Lord Peter Wimsey he has an aristocratic background and the snobbery level in the books is high, especially in her supposedly comic portrayal of Campion’s valet and sidekick, the unendearingly common Magersfontein Lugg. Even his silly name makes me grit my teeth. To make up for these annoyances, however, Allingham provides intriguing mysteries, usually fair play, although so devious that I can rarely work them out until all is revealed.

Challenge details:
Book: 25
Subject Heading: The Great Detectives
Publication Year: 1937

This one is unusual in that Campion tells us the story himself – usually the books are written in the third person. I quite enjoyed getting inside his head for a change. He often comes over as a sort of silly ass, an upper-class twit whose brilliance everyone underestimates because of the Wodehouse-ish (or Wimsey-ish – I’m never quite sure which it is that Allingham is attempting to parody) way he talks and behaves. But the first person approach takes the edge off the silliness, and I actually found him far more likeable when we could see his thought processes, especially since he tells us when he got things wrong.

Margery Allingham

The slight downside of the first person, though, is that Allingham has to tread the line carefully neither to reveal too much nor to make it too obvious when Campion is holding things back for the purposes of the big reveal. She does pretty well, on the whole, but I did manage to guess the who and the why and even had an inkling of part of the how. There was still enough that I couldn’t work out, though, to keep me turning the pages quite happily until Campion explained it all at the end.

I’m still not sure why Allingham gets ranked as one of the Queens of Crime – for my money she’s not a patch on ECR Lorac, for example, who is a “forgotten” author. But I suspect that’s more down to my subjective taste regarding style than an objective judgement about quality – I really don’t like the snobbery that comes with aristocratic detectives – and there’s no doubt Allingham has her fair share of dedicated fans. I don’t think I’ll ever class myself as one of them, but I find her quite entertaining for an occasional read. And, overall, for me this was one of the more enjoyable of the Campion novels.

Book 4 of 20

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34 thoughts on “The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham

  1. I read a couple of Allinghams – just the very few random ones that are in our local library – because I remembered liking the Campion TV series (?1980s) & happened to read this particular book out of sequence with a later one which I liked more as it had more characters. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I didn’t really warm to this author, considering the plots were smart, but she didn’t motivate me to seek out more editions at my own expense :),

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    • I liked the TV series more too, mainly because it starred Peter Davidson and I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him. But the books have never seemed to me to be in the same league as Christie, Sayers and Marsh, even though Sayers and Marsh suffer form the snobbery problem too.

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    • I enjoyed the TV series because it starred Peter Davidson and I’ve always liked him. But it wasn’t a patch on either the Poirot or Miss Marple adaptations, probably because the books aren’t as good!

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  2. I agree, FictionFan, that there’s a very high snobbery level in the Campion novels. I’ve honestly never liked that about them! There are a few good ‘uns in this series, but honestly, I like other authors better, and I can see why you didn’t exactly rave about this one. Still, it is interesting to see things from Campion’s point of view. I wonder what it’d have been like if Agatha Christie had done some novels from ‘inside the head’ of Poirot or Miss Marple or the Beresfords…

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    • That’s an interesting thought! I suppose in some of the books she sort of did let us know their inner thoughts, though in a third person way – Miss Marple especially, and her feelings about society changing as she aged. But I do think it’s easier to hide clues in the third person – in the first person, it often feels as if the narrator is cheating. It works better in thrillers than mysteries, I think.

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  3. I was never much of a fan of the Campion books either though I gave them a go. Never warmed up to them. I preferred the TV series (though it also was not a favorite). I also prefer Ngaio Marsh’s aristocratic detective, though I haven’t read any since the 90s.

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    • I preferred the TV series too, mainly because it starred Peter Davidson and I’ve always had a soft spot for him. But I agree they weren’t in the same class as some of the other adaptations, like Poirot or even the Wimseys. Both Sayers and Marsh annoy me with the snobbery too, but I still think they’re both much better than poor Allingham – I’ve never understood why she gets classed alongside them.

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  4. While I’m always on the lookout for a new (to me!) mystery writer, I’m having mixed feelings about this one. I haven’t read any of her works, but that snobbishness factor doesn’t sound very appealing right now. Oh well, if I find one in the local library, I might give it a go anyway — no sense actually paying for something that might not stick around and grow old gracefully, ha!

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    • Loads of people love her books, Debbie, so it might be worth trying her if your library has any. But for me, they’re nowhere near as good as some of the other Golden Age writers. Maybe it’s just that they’ve dated more badly…

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  5. I don’t like snobs… in real life OR literature, though I can tolerate them in the latter if the story is entertaining enough. I must say the plot sounds really interesting in this one. Still…. I don’t see it taking a spot on my crowded wishlist.

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    • The snobbery in the Golden Age always tends to put me off, but like you it depends on how well all the other stuff is done. But the “comedy” lower-class valet thing always touches a nerve – like Bunter in the Wimsey books or Lugg in these…

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    • I’m afraid it was fairly common in the crime writing of that period – a bit like the drunken detective of today! But sometimes it grates more than others with me, and the lower-class “comedy” manservant thing that a lot of the writers used always annoys me.

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  6. Yes, the title is indeed brilliant, but like everyone else, I can’t be doing with snobbery, and the story itself, while not sounding too bad is probably not interesting enough to make me want to read this. At least you are getting through your Books of Summer and MMM challenges, so not a complete waste of your time.

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    • Yes, I quite enjoyed this overall, but I’m afraid Allingham will never be a favourite. I wish she hadn’t stuck with Campion, in fact – I’ve read a few short stories of hers in various anthologies, and I actually like her much better when she’s not writing about him. But I guess the pressure to have a series detective was just as strong back then as now…

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  7. Not for me either, the colonial point-of-view tends to make me quite allergic to uppishness. I did enjoy the title and it reminded me of a Colin Watson I read earlier in the year. It was a very early edition of the book dragged out of the stack storage at the library, and featured a pig on the cover which gave a mighty clue to revealing the book’s mystery before Chapter 1 even started. I noticed later editions had more obscure covers!

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    • Haha, I hate when the covers give the game away, although I suppose it proves that at least the cover artist read the book! Quite often with old crime novels, there’ll be a picture of a gun on the cover, and no guns in the story – same applies to blondes. 😉 Did you enjoy the Colin Watson? I do love him, and although his books are full of class divisions I don’t feel he’s quite as snobbish as many of his contemporaries.

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  8. I might give this a try on the basis of the great title and premise – the snobbery in the Wimsey books doesn’t bother me as much as it should, so maybe I will be able to get on board with Campion as well.

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    • Ah, you might get on better with these than me, then – I can’t stand the snobbishness in Wimsey either. I think it might be because I’m old enough to kind of remember when people actually had those attitudes to the “lower classes”, whereas to younger people it probably feels more a thing of the past, kinda like the way I can tolerate colonial racist attitudes in Victorian fiction…

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      • That’s quite possible – I grew up working class and have definitely been hassled about it, especially at my posh grammar school and to a lesser extent at university. When I come across snobbery in contemporary fiction it infuriates me, maybe even more than other “isms”. But the whole idea of a landed gentry and aristocracy, and working class people being expected to tug the forelock, etc – that seems so alien to me that it just makes me roll my eyes a bit.

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  9. I’m a little bit tempted by this, the mystery is intriguing and I love the nickname ‘Pig.’ However, Wodehouse was so much better than anyone else at slang that everyone else looks like a poor copy. I hated Lord Peter Wimsey too, so that isn’t a selling point either!

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  10. Two things would immediately put me off about this — the silly placename of Kepesake (which seems to suggest we mustn’t take anything seriously here, which is a poor approach for a novelist aspiring to be serious to take) and the photo of a bottle of poison on the cover (I’ve seen it already on a couple of recent Christie editions, and what a lazy cliché that is).

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    • Yes, I hated the name Kepesake too – so false. Even fiction ought to try to *feel* real. But it fits with what I think of Allingham in general – that she was more of a lightweight puzzle writer than a crime novelist. Haha – vintage crime covers can be so bad! I think that’s why we all admire the BL ones so much!

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