May 2014

Margery Allingham - Dancers In Mourning



It was when investigating about 'Dancers in Mourning' that I discovered that a writer who shares my love of this novel is Booker Prize winner, A.S. Byatt. I leave her opening words to kick start this review of Allingham's book…

''Dancers in Mourning', published in 1937, I feel is the best example of Allingham's capacity to create the atmosphere, showing the shuttered worlds of those involved in the dramatic arts, the stage and the musical.'

Here, Allingham takes a leaf out of Christie's book and has a cast of characters parachuted in to a large country house in the middle of nowhere. Allingham's cast is full of actors and dancers. Byatt is unsure how Allingham could know the theatre so well. My guess is that it is due to her time at the Regent Street Polytechnic where she studied drama.

Campion's friend, Uncle William has written a successful memoir which is to be a musical. Allingham litters this novel with some marvelous named people including 'Jimmy Sutane' and 'Slippers Bellow'. The country house is full to the brim of theatrics which can only mean large egos and fragile temperaments! Needless to say, soon enough murder has been committed and Campion has to negotiate amongst some of the greatest actors of the London stage to try and fathom out who is telling lies.

What Allingham has always done well, sometimes too well so that she could compromise her plots for characterisation, is to chronicle the interplay between all the people in her novels. Here Allingham is adroit at describing Campion's pangs of love for the unattainable Linda. But while some of Allingham's plots can go a little awry, I felt that in 'Dancers in Mourning' she struck the right balance between plot and character. For me, this novel perfectly shows how Allingham had grown and developed as a writer.

I know that Allingham's novel 'The Tiger in the Smoke' is her most revered of the Campion's and although I do believe she struck the right cord with the menace of Jack Havoc (the tiger) and London shrouded in a dense November smog (the smoke), but for me it places Campion on the outskirts of the novel and although Allingham shows herself as a writer of greatness, to call it a Campion case is misleading. Anyone wishing to try Allingham's novels would be best with 'Dancers in Mourning', 'The Fashion in Shrouds' or even 'Mystery Mile'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Back to review archive