The idyllic English village of Lindsay Carfax isn’t run by the parish council, the rating authority, the sanitary inspector nor the local cops as you might suppose. The real bosses are the Carders – something to do with wool, four hundred years back. They wound stuff on cards, I suppose. But these boys are very fly customers – they’re right on the ball. Boiled down, it comes to this; they’re a syndicate who run this place – which makes a packet – with their own rules. One way and another they probably own most of it.”
Thus ruminated Superintendent Charles Luke to Albert Campion who was contemplating visiting his wayward artistic niece in Carfax. And when a missing schoolteacher reappeared after nine days, and Campion’s car was “inadvertently” damaged, not to mention Campion himself, then all the signs were that not all was what it seemed.
Campion himself plays the central role in this quintessentially British mystery, but there are appearances too from all of Margery Allingham’s regular characters, from Luke to Campion’s former manservant Lugg, to his wife Lady Amanda Fitton and others. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the observation keen, and the climax is thrilling and eerily atmospheric.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Mike Ripley is the two-time winner of the Crime Writers’ Last Laugh award, and the author of several thrillers and historical novels. He writes a hugely respected monthly review column for Shots Magazine entitled getting Away with Murder. Philip Youngman Carter was Margery Allingham’s artist husband and a novelist in his own right.
Read an Excerpt
Mr Campion's Farewell
Margery Allingham's Albert Campion returns in
By Mike Ripley
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Mike Ripley
All rights reserved.
Sequel to a Nine Days' Wonder
'I find it shocking,' said Clarissa Webster. 'Shocking, and, if you must know, rather frightening.'
She pushed back the papers on her roll-top desk, put down an empty glass and lit a cigarette. The back room of the shop called appropriately The Medley, once the kitchen of a Tudor cottage, was part office, part store. Canvases, framed and unframed, lined one wall; cardboard cartons of artists' materials, convex mirrors, bookends and tourist souvenirs were stacked in that curious disarray which suggests that it is part of a system understood only by its creator.
She was past fifty but still handsome and well aware of her sex, with an easy charm that beckoned and comforted. Her customers, particularly if they were male, found her as irresistible and as memorable as the setting which had attracted them into her net. Sweet, sly, pretty Mrs Webster, a natural saleswoman who could convince any buyer that he had acquired a bargain – a future family heirloom – rather than an overpriced painting of a scene better left to coloured postcards.
The girl who had been engulfed in an armchair too low to the floor pulled herself out of it and straddled one of the squat square arms. Despite jeans and the painter's smock worn for practical reasons, the results of which were smeared all over it, she merited more than a casual glance. Everything about her, from the short, almost cropped dark hair about a face which was just too rounded for classic beauty, to the tips of her small spatulate fingers suggested an expert in her choice of work whatever it might be.
'Shocking?' she repeated. 'Frightening? Putting it a bit high, aren't you? You might say it's crackingly silly publicity hunting. I'd call it a load of old codswallop myself.'
Mrs Webster picked a thin paperback book from one of the heaps on her desk. The cover, a pale puce, swore violently with strident orange and green lettering. She held it at arm's length.
'Get with the Psalms,' she read aloud, 'by the Rev. Leslie Trump, vicar of Lindsay Carfax.' She opened a page at random. 'Get a load of this. "I was chuffed when they said let's make the God-bothering shop." That's the kick-off of Psalm 122, in case you don't know – according to Trump, the silly little ape.'
'I shouldn't have thought,' said her companion, 'that you were the religious type. You certainly never go to church. What makes you so hot and bothered?'
The proprietress of The Medley poured herself two fingers of gin, adding water from a lustre jug.
'How long have you been here, Eliza Jane?' she asked. 'Just over a year since you first appeared, I think. You're the wrong generation – miles too young. History doesn't mean a thing to you unless it repeats itself and bobs up to fetch you one across the chops. I couldn't care less about Trump – I don't even know him well enough to dislike him. What I don't want just now is trouble. We can all do without another Nine Days' Wonder which is what he's asking for. Have a drink.'
'Gobbledy-gook,' said Eliza Jane. 'Who gives a damn about what Trump says or does? He could blow till he burst without anyone paying attention. What Nine Days' Wonder?'
Mrs Webster moistened her lips from her glass and considered the slim figure perched on the chair through her convincing artificial eyelashes. She appeared to change the subject.
'Ben Judd,' she said after a pause. 'I suppose you sleep with him from time to time – I would if I were your age – but are you thinking of shacking up with him? I mean do you intend to stay here for keeps?'
The girl was clearly not embarrassed by the question.
'I might. Ben is rather too fierce for me just now. He's a real painter and my stuff drives him up the wall. Why do you ask?'
'Not out of bitchy curiosity.' Mrs Webster was thoughtful as she sipped her gin. 'I'm going to tell you something and you can believe it or not as you choose. It's always been unlucky to stick your neck out if you live here. That may sound completely mad to you, but it's true. People who do anything which might tend to destroy our image have a pretty parroty time. Perhaps you haven't been here long enough to notice that.'
'You mean those deadbeats, the drop-out crowd, who thought they'd move in last summer?'
'Them – and others. They weren't the first.'
'The Nine Days' Wonder, then?'
Mrs Webster blew a smoke ring into the air and poked a plump forefinger through it.
'This village,' she said, 'as you very well know, is not a village at all – it's a very nicely organised money-making machine. You're part of it with your blissful trick of turning out old-world paintings of it by the dozen. I'm part of it with my arty-crafty racket. So is every man, woman and child in the place. We all live in and on Lindsay Carfax the unspoiled beauty spot of Merrie England as it never bloody well was except in Cloud Cuckooland. We could just as well be working in a film set and the drains would be less smelly.
'We've been a carefully preserved gold mine for at least seventy years and it has never paid anyone to step out of line. People who do become accident-prone. One of Trump's predecessors found that out in 1910 or thereabouts. He was the original Nine Days' Wonder – or one of them.'
'The dreaded elders of the village fixed him? The Gestapo in the form of Gus Marchant's grandfather? What was he up to anyhow?'
'My Aunt Thisbe, who raised me, always said he was a very dull earnest man with theories above his pocket. His name was Austin Bonus – it's on the roll of clergy in the church – and he had an idea to establish a children's home here: East End slum children, waifs and strays and so on. There was a lot of opposition to the scheme on account of it might be noisy and dirty, and bad for the Lindsay Carfax image as a haunt of ancient peace. Bonus fought for a bit and even raised some cash for his scheme – not from the village, I promise you, but from distant do-gooders.
'Then one day he disappeared. It was just after Christmas and he was last seen at an old folks' party at the Carders Hall. He was gone for nine days and when he turned up again he dropped the children's home like a hot potato and carried on as if nothing had happened.'
'Nary a word. His wife was furious for a bit, they say, and some of the Church council weren't entirely pleased but it all blew over. They restored the church roof instead and bought a very good organ. No one explained where the money had come from, but it must have cost a packet. Johnnie Sirrah wasn't so lucky.'
'Who was he?'
Mrs Webster's eyes became soft. She smiled like a cat remembering a dish of cream.
'He was by way of being a boyfriend of mine – my first now I come to think of it. It was just before the war when everyone was clamouring for peace and yet doing nothing about it except going to Spain to join in the shooting there. Communism, pacifism, anti-bloodsportism, anti-clericalism, anti-vivisectionalism – you name it, we had it. He tried to organise the whole thing into one vast wail of anger, starting from here because this was supposed to be the deep heart of England, and he had just begun to get himself noticed in quite a big way by the press. I was only eighteen then and quite a dish, though I say it myself. I didn't love him but I thought he'd do very nicely to begin with – he was a sort of challenge to any girl with growing pains. He taught me a thing or two and I never regretted it. Poor Johnnie.'
She emptied her glass to his memory.
'What happened to him?'
'He was found in the gravel pit at Saxon Mills with his head in the water and his neck broken. It's quite a fall from the top and they said he'd been drinking, which was probably true. What nobody knows is why he went there at all. The odd thing was that it took them nine days to find him. We seem to like that number hereabouts.'
'The ghastly Nine Day Festival of the Crafts?'
Mrs Webster sighed. She had not thought about Johnnie Sirrah for many years and the sudden re-appearance of memory brought a twinge of emotion: not pain but surprise.
'Nine oaks by the church, nine acres of the Common, nine steps to the Carders Hall. They used to say there were nine ways to Carfax but it's not true any longer – there's only one. The rest are just lanes leading nowhere in particular.'
She stood up and closed the bottle. 'If you're not going to have one I shall put this away before I get a taste for it. By the way, could you knock me up a sort of Constable's Haywain job? About thirty by twenty? Make it a Morland if you feel like it. The pond, the church and the Prentice House. You know the sort of thing – plenty of thick dark varnish. I've got a very good prospect in mind who won't be over here for a month.'
The girl made a mental calculation before answering.
'It would take that long,' she said. 'Varnishes have to dry properly and then it has to be baked till it cracks nicely. I've got about four half-finished but they're all what I call quickies. They wouldn't suit.' She flicked a direct glance at the other woman. 'You wouldn't try passing it for real?'
'Just a sucker's price, my dear,' she said. 'I never guarantee anything as genuine except the wood carvings and anyone can see they're hand done. I shall get what I can for this one when I see how he shapes up as a buyer. I'll come clean about it with you: fifty-fifty and nothing to be agreed in advance. OK? Are you off now?'
Eliza Jane hesitated. 'Well, I was,' she said, 'but you've just reminded me of something I heard out of the corner of my ear this morning when I was talking to Ben in the Woolpack. Someone has been missing from home for a couple of days and his landlady is wondering if he's gone off on the toot and should she do anything about it. Or so they say.'
Mrs Webster turned her head sharply.
'Not little Trump, then. So who?'
'Someone I've never heard of. His name is Walker – Lemmy Walker, I think they said – and he teaches at the Carders' school for Juniors. Has he been bobbing his head up, or speaking out of turn?'
'Now that is news,' said Mrs Webster.
The two men who were sitting in the hazy morning sunlight on the terrace of the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo appeared to have nothing in common except for the fact that they were both English. The older, a shrivelled bird-like figure wearing a linen jacket and a discoloured panama hat which had evidently been preserved at the back of a wardrobe against the owner's return to the south of France, might have been a clergyman on holiday or the senior partner of a legal firm. Mr Marcus Fuller was in fact a house agent and a dealer in property.
His companion, a lump of flesh, solid as a sack of sand, favoured an overbright blazer and fawn trousers. An unkind guess would have placed him as a North Country man, possibly a butcher, but although Augustine Marchant owned several shops, including a butcher's, he had never handled a carcass in his life, and his voice in moments of stress betrayed his native Suffolk. He sat now, an arm on the balustrade, a John Collins in his hand, with his back to the hotel scanning the morning trickle of tourists into the Casino.
'As mad as a flaming coot,' he said. 'I've always known it. And now you can see it for yourself.'
The older man sniffed. He spoke in the dry clipped tones of the true pedant.
'The Redcars have always enjoyed that reputation. They cultivate it, so to speak, as if it were a rare cactus or a special breed of Siamese cat. Her ladyship is no exception. Eccentric, if you like. But not mad – or only nor' nor' east in my opinion. There's method in it, Gus, if you take the trouble to look for it.'
Marchant grunted dismissively.
'Trotting into that clip joint at this hour in the morning regular as clockwork is mad if you ask me. Stark staring raving nuts. Why does she do it?'
'Because she wins. Housekeeping money, you know – nothing very much, but enough for the morning shopping.'
'If she's got a system why doesn't she clean up with it? I spent a packet trying to get my own off the ground and came away with a hole in my pocket. That proves she's mad – if it needed proving. She's a fairly rich woman yet she spends her mornings – her mornings, not her evenings, you realise – in that dreary hole. Round the bend, like I said.'
Mr Marcus Fuller did not reply until his friend had turned back towards their table.
'Her system is almost infallible,' he observed casually. 'A lot of people here – mostly English women – live by it. It is extremely dull, foolproof, and tolerated by the authorities because it dresses the house – keeps a table going in the mornings when the coach parties come in and want to see real gamblers in action.
'You back on the column – a two-to-one chance – and go on doubling your stake until you make a win. Then you come away with enough money – just – for the groceries or your hair-do or whatever your needs for the day are. All it requires is patience, a little capital and a total lack of interest in gambling. It wouldn't suit you.'
Mr Fuller sipped thoughtfully at his paradis terrestre, the brightly coloured fruit drink of the hotel.
'It's her health that interests me, if you recall, not her mental state.'
'I've made some enquiries whilst you've been disporting yourself. At eighty, you wouldn't expect her to be strong on the wing. She's frail, but still quite active, her concierge says. Sees a doctor regularly – a man who specialises in heart conditions, I'm told. A shock, I suppose, would be more dangerous than a chill. That fact may become important in certain eventualities.'
Marchant's full-blooded complexion deepened under his newly acquired sunburn. He looked back towards the steps of the casino where a fresh coach load of tourists was streaming towards the avenue of fruit machines which flanked the entrance to the gaming rooms. He shook himself, emptied his glass, and, after a pause, produced a sheet of folded paper from a notecase.
'This came yesterday,' he remarked. 'I didn't happen to use my room last night or I'd have had it sooner. As it is, I'd only just read it before you appeared. I don't like the sound of it.'
He skimmed the letter across the table.
'From Clarissa. She's a good girl – on the sharp side. I like 'em like that. In business, that is.'
Mr Fuller changed his glasses from a leather case in his breast pocket. He picked up the sheet and examined it with a professionalism which mysteriously transmuted it from a mere letter into a document. It was dated but without preamble.
I think you should know that Lemmy Walker the schoolmaster has just re-appeared here after being missing for nine days. There was no wild fuss about this because of the school holidays and he mostly looks after himself though he lodges, in two private rooms, with the Thorntons – the one who used to work in the store. Said goodnight to them on the Friday at about ten and told them he was going for a walk. Very strange, I thought. No toothbrush or pyjamas, says Mrs T., and didn't turn up to two meetings – Ratepayers Protection and Free Youth Club, who are a bunch of commies anyhow. Usually he shoots his mouth off at both, they say. Mrs T. says he walked in just before breakfast yesterday, unshaven and clothes torn, she thinks brambles, and face scratched. Not a word could she get out of him. Nine days. If you can take time off from being a dirty old man, do tell Mr F senior about it. He might know something, which is more than I do. Have fun.
P.S. My favourite scent is Ma Griffe.
Marchant waited ponderously, allowing the information time to be digested. His voice had a belligerent edge.
'Well, what do you know about that?'
The older man doubled the paper precisely and unfolded it for a second reading.
'A question I might have asked you in other circumstances. If it is significant at all, it is rather disturbing.'
'Not you, then. Not me. Not Simon, surely? Who else? The new boy?'
Marcus Fuller considered the question and gave it unconditional discharge.
'More than improbable. He has no interest in the subject and even less information. We have all seen to that. But if Mrs Webster has her facts correctly co-ordinated – and despite her pulchritude I would describe her as an astute creature – then we are presented with a most peculiar alternative.'
'Meaning what? Take five from five and the answer is nothing, or it was when I was at school.'
'In that case,' said Mr Fuller, tilting his panama so far forward that it appeared to rest on his eyebrows, 'the original premise has been inaccurately stated.'
He peered through narrowed eyes beyond the line of American cars lounging opulently under the palm trees.
'Lady Prunella is leaving already after her morning stint. A single throw must have been productive. As you say, or infer, we can rule her out. You have no suggestion to make – no more of an idea?'
'I just don't like it. It's as simple as that.'
Mr Fuller consulted the slim golden watch on his wrist and a page of notes in microscopic writing at the back of a diary which he produced from his hip pocket.
'I could be back in Lindsay Carfax in time for dinner if I stirred myself. One of us at least should keep an eye open. Simon will have all the facts but he will not have gone further. He will feel guilty because he should have written to me, or called me, rather than leaving it to an inquisitive woman. My young brother is an idle man in some ways – he lacks my initiative.'
Excerpted from Mr Campion's Farewell by Mike Ripley. Copyright © 2014 Mike Ripley. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Sequel to a Nine Days' Wonder,
Chapter 2: Who Knocks?,
Chapter 3: The Nine Carders,
Chapter 4: Nightcap,
Chapter 5: Crime Scene,
Chapter 6: Tourist Trade,
Chapter 7: School Dinners,
Chapter 8: A Call on an Inspector,
Chapter 9: Rough Shoot,
Chapter 10: Visiting Hours,
Chapter 11: The Professor of Nines,
Chapter 12: Digging Dirt,
Chapter 13: The Student of Owling,
Chapter 14: That Riviera Touch,
Chapter 15: The Man Who Hardly Troubled the Bank at Monte Carlo,
Chapter 16: As a Thieves in the Night,
Chapter 17: Detectives No Longer Required,
Chapter 18: Centre of the Web,
Chapter 19: Humble Pie,
Chapter 20: Mole Run,
Chapter 21: Board Meeting,
Chapter 22: Moonglow,
With the co-operation of the Margery Allingham Society, I have completed the untitled third novel by Pip Youngman Carter, Margery’s widower, left unfinished on his death in 1969. On Margery’s death in 1966, Youngman Carter completed her novel Cargo of Eagles (published 1968) and two further Campion books: Mr Campion’s Farthing and Mr Campion’s Falcon. He was at work on a third, which would have been the twenty-second Campion novel, when he died in November 1969.
Pip’s fragment of manuscript, which contained revisions and minor corrections but no plot outline, character synopsis or plan, was bequeathed to Margery Allingham’s sister Joyce; and upon her death in 2001, the manuscript was left to officials of the Margery Allingham Society (MAS). In 2010, as a guest speaker at the Society’s annual convention, I first learned of Youngman Carter’s unfinished novel, despite being an avid Allingham fan for more than forty years and having lived within ten miles of Pip and Margery’s home in Tolleshunt d’Arcy in Essex for more than twenty.
In 2012 Barry Pike, Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society, took up my rash offer to complete Pip’s manuscript as an affectionate conclusion to the adventures of Albert Campion, one of the brightest stars in the rich firmament of British crime writing. But Severn House is so enthusiastic that they have commissioned a further title Mr Campion’s Fox for 2015. I must also thank Julia Jones, Margery Allingham’s biographer, and novelist Andrew Taylor for their encouragement after reading early drafts.