"It is a model detective story, elegantly written, cunningly wrought, and rich in character and atmosphere.... Nothing in the earlier books suggests the range and intensity of characterisation which the author now reveals".
Not my words, but taken from the Margery Allingham website, where you can find a wealth of information about this excellent writer. If you know me at all you will have realised that I am a great lover of classic detective fiction, and I would rate Margery Allingham somewhere at the top of the pile, a pile which includes Sayers, Marsh, Christie, Innes among other distinguished writers. I started reading her novels when I was about thirteen and have loved them ever since. Some I have re-read several times but occasionally I encounter one that I have never read, and this proved to be one such. The swine flu prevented me from reading more than a chapter at a time for several days, but now I am slowly crawling back to the land of the living I have finished it with the greatest enjoyment.
The central protagonist here, as in all Allingham's best novels, is Albert Campion. Not a detective in any conventional sense, Campion is a young man of who is descended from an aristocratic family, the details of which he chooses to conceal. He also conceals his sharp intelligence and impressive powers of observation and deduction behind a rather foolish and vacant exterior. Modest and unassuming, he nevertheless solves mysteries that have defeated the police force, who are led here, as in many of the books he appears in, by his friend Stanislaus Oates. Here, the action takes place in a grand old house in Cambridge, presided over by an extraordinarily strong-minded old lady, Caroline Faraday. The widow of a distinguished man of letters, she rules the household with a rod of iron, despite the grumblings of her aging dependents. When first one and then a second of these is murdered, Campion is summoned and asked to solve the mystery. It soon becomes clear that these crimes could only have been committed by someone within this small household, but none of the surviving candidates appears to have had the ability or the opportunity. The final solution, when Campion arrives at it, is astonishing, and extraordinarily original -- I don't recall anything quite like it in any detective fiction I have read.
There are some wonderful characters here -- 84 year old Mrs Faraday, a tiny, elegant, but indomitable relic of the Victorian era (the book was written in 1931), only too aware of the follies, failings and vices of her descendents -- her loyal maid Alice, a great giant of a woman, who is fiercely protective of her beloved mistress -- appalling Cousin George, drunken and abusive, whose unforgiveable behaviour is partly explained towards the end by the revelation of a (highy politically incorrect) family secret -- and above all Uncle William, a wonderfully comic and touching figure who Campion begins by mistrusting and ends by admiring.
Allingham is a highly intelligent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking writer. Having read, or re-read, a number of her books in the last few years I would say that one of her major preoccupations was the nature and existence of evil, which certainly figures largely in this novel. Excellent and highly recommended.