From my Christmas haul of books, I read my first mystery by Margery Allingham this week, The White Cottage Mystery, and was suitably impressed. According to the editor’s notes at the back of this book, Allingham published her first novel at nineteen in 1923 and continued publishing up until her death. In fact her last novel, A Cargo of Eagles, was published posthumously by her husband (159-60). The White Cottage Mystery brings us the rather gruesome murder by shot gun of a vicious sort in an English country house. The family of the house, psychologically tortured by this clever and educated psychopath, all have motives that are gradually unraveled as the story progresses, with many twists pointing first at one then another – while some less than sterling supporting characters who also might be the killer lurk throughout the tale. The detectives are the experienced police inspector W.T. Challoner and his son Jerry. Of course Jerry is a bit on the impulsive side, falling in love with a young woman from the suspected family. However, his father proceeds with the care, intellect, fairness, and a bit of dry humor that you might expect from Christopher Foyle. When the final revelation comes through, it all fits together in a way that wins your sympathy and respect for the Inspector and the others. You may not see that startling revelation coming, but Allingham has set down the clues for you, so pay attention. Though this book does not have the in-depth feel for English country life across class levels that you find in a Patricia Wentworth novel, you do get an effective sense of 1920s England and the Continent, the novel having been serialized in The Daily Express in 1927. I definitely want to read more by her. For those who are interested in knowing more about Allingham, there is a web site with a mailing list on which you can sign up at www.bloomsbury.com/margery-allingham.
Cover image: Bridgeman images, based on original rail poster design by Emma Ewbank