Authors: Margery Allingham
Way back during the crusades Richard I presented the Huntingforest family with the tiny Balkan state of Averna but since then the kingdom has been forgotten, until circumstances in Europe suddenly render it extremely strategically important to the British Government. They hire unconventional detective Albert Campion to recover the long-missing proofs of ownership â the deeds, a crown, and a receipt â which are apparently hidden in the village of Pontisbright. On arriving in Pontisbright, Campion and his friends meet the eccentric, young, flame-haired Amanda Fitton and her family who claim to be the rightful heirs to Averna and join in the hunt. Unfortunately, criminal financier Brett Savanake is also interested in finding the evidence for his own ends. Things get rather rough in the village as Savanake's heavies up the pressure on Campion to solve the mystery before they do. In the course of the hunt, Campion dresses in drag, takes refuge in a tree, is nearly drowned in a mill race, and his friends find themselves bound and gagged in sacks, shot at, and witnesses to a satanic ceremony led by the local doctor. The rural calm of Pontisbright is well and truly shattered.
Margery Allingham was born in London in 1904. She attended the Perse School in Cambridge before returning to London to the Regent Street Polytechnic. Her father â author H. J. Allingham â encouraged her to write, and was delighted when she contributed to her aunt's cinematic magazine,
The Picture Show
, at the age of eight. Her first novel was published when she was seventeen. In 1928 she published her first detective story,
The White Cottage Mystery
, which had been serialised in the
. The following year, in
The Crime at Black Dudley
, she introduced the character who was to become the hallmark of her writing â Albert Campion. Her novels heralded the more sophisticated suspense genre: characterised by her intuitive intelligence, extraordinary energy and accurate observation, they vary from the grave to the openly satirical, whilst never losing sight of the basic rules of the classic detective tale. Famous for her London thrillers, such as
Hide My Eyes
The Tiger in the Smoke
, she has been compared to Dickens in her evocation of the city's shady underworld.
In 1927 she married the artist, journalist and editor Philip Youngman Carter. They divided their time between their Bloomsbury flat and an old house in the village of Tolleshunt D'Arcy in Essex. Margery Allingham died in 1966.
ALSO BY MARGERY ALLINGHAM IN THE ALBERT CAMPION SERIES
The Crime at Black Dudley
Look to the Lady
Police at the Funeral
Death of a Ghost
Dancers in Mourning
Flowers for the Judge
The Case of the Late Pig
Mr Campion and Others
The Fashion in Shrouds
The Casebook of Mr Campion
More Work for the Undertaker
The Tiger in the Smoke
The Beckoning Lady
The China Governess
The Mind Readers
A Cargo of Eagles
Mr Campion's Farthing
Mr Campion's Falcon
THE CHARACTERS AND INCIDENTS
IN THIS STORY WERE INVENTED BY THE
AUTHOR AND DO NOT REFER
TO LIVING PERSONS OR
Albert, b. 20 May 1900. Educated at Rugby and St Ignatius College, Cambridge. Embarked on adventurous career 1924. Chief cases include the Black Dudley Murder, the Affair at Mystery Mile, the Protection of the Gyrth Chalice, and the incidents at Cambridge which entailed Police at the Funeral. Name known to be a pseudonym, but real identity hitherto unpublished.
Puffin's, The Junior Greys.
17 Bottle St, Piccadilly, London, W1.
A SMALL WINDOW
in the sunlit, yellow side of the HÃ´tel Beauregard, Mentone, opened slowly, and through it a hand appeared, which, after depositing a compact brown suit-case upon the sill, speedily vanished.
Guffy Randall, who was allowing his car to roll in a leisurely fashion down the gentle slope to the sharp right-angle turn which would bring him to the front of the hotel and lunch, pulled up and observed the now closed window and the bag with that air of polite yet careless interest, which was his chief characteristic.
It seemed such a foolish thing to do, this leaving of a small brown portmanteau upon the sill of a shut, first-floor window. Mr Randall was stolid, nordic, and logical. He also had the heaven-sent gift of curiosity, and thus it was that he was still gazing idly at the hotel wall when the sequel of the first incident occurred.
A glazed ground-floor window was opened cautiously, and a small man in a brown suit began to climb out. It was a very small window, and the unconventional departer seemed more anxious to watch what he was leaving than to see where he was going, so that he came out feet first, his knees resting upon the sill. He moved with remarkable agility, and as Mr Randall watched he saw to his astonishment a hand replace an unmistakable revolver in a strained hip pocket.
The next moment the new-comer had closed the window, hoisted himself carefully to his feet, and, stepping on a pipe-bracket, pulled himself far enough up to retrieve the bag.
Then he dropped silently on to the dusty path and set off down the road at a sprint.
The young man caught a glimpse of a small, pink, rat-like face and scared red-rimmed eyes.
Naturally the obvious explanation occurred to him, but he felt all the mistrust which the Englishman abroad feels towards any judicial system he does not understand, coupled with a vigorous horror of becoming involved in it in any way. Moreover, he was hungry. The day was as hot and as lazy as only a day on the French Riviera out of season can be, and he felt no personal animosity towards any impecunious hotel guest who must resort to undignified methods of departure, so long as he himself were not inconvenienced.
He turned the Lagonda gently into the palm-lined street which ran round the bay, and drove slowly through the ornate iron gates to the hotel entrance.
As he pulled, up in the wide gravel parking place, he noted with relief that the hotel was by no means crowded. Rugby, Oxford, and the shires had produced in Guffy Randall at the age of twenty-eight an almost perfect specimen of the younger diehard. He was amiable, well-mannered, snobbish to the point of comedy and, in spite of his faults, a rather delightful person. His cheerful round face was hardly distinguished, but his very blue eyes were frank and kindly and his smile was disarming.
At the moment he was returning from the somewhat trying experience of conducting an aged and valetudinarian dowager aunt to an Italian spa, and having now deposited her safely at her villa was proceeding quietly homeward along the coast.
As he set foot in the cool ornate vestibule of the Beauregard, conscience smote him. He remembered the place well, and the benign face of little M. Ãtienne Fleurey, the manager, returned to him.
It was one of Guffy's most charming peculiarities that he made friends wherever he went and with all sorts of people.
M. Fleurey, he remembered now, had been the most estimable and obliging of hosts, whose small stock of Napoleon brandy had been nobly produced at a farewell gathering at the end of a hectic season some few years before. In the circumstances, he reflected, the least thing he could have done was to have given the alarm after the mysteriously departing stranger, or, better still, to have chased and apprehended him.
Regretful, and annoyed with himself, the young man decided to do what he could to remedy his omission, and, giving his card to the reception clerk, desired that it might be taken immediately to the manager.
M. Fleurey was a person of great importance in the little world encompassed by the walls of the Beauregard. Minor strangers spent whole fortnights in the hotel without so much as setting eyes upon the august cherub, who preferred to direct his minions from behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, within a few minutes young Mr Randall found himself in the little mahogany-lined sanctum on the sunny side of the forecourt, with M. Fleurey himself pumping his hand and emitting birdlike chirrups of welcome and regard.