book: Take Two at Bedtime (1949; vt Deadly Duo) by Margery Allingham

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A double bill of two novellas from the immediate post-WWII years, both containing elements that are reflective of their time: in one it’s fairly central to the plot that a character is taking a long time to recover from a war wound, in the other that various central characters fled Europe and that one instead chose to fight in the French Resistance.

The first and shorter tale, Wanted: Someone Innocent (1945), sees naive young Gillie Brayton being recruited for a sort of non-job, little realizing she’s destined to be set up as a sort of Designated Other Woman and then, when that dastardly scheme fails, as patsy for a murder, or at best klutz responsible for a tragic accident. The second novella, both more substantial and more substantive, Last Call (1946), carries a sort of thematic echo of the first, as up-and-coming actress Margot Robert must sort out the goings-on, culminating in a poisoning, in a household headed by Margot’s guardian, the over-the-top and over-the-hill actress Mathilde “Zoff” Zoffany.

Both tales are mysteries, although I can’t imagine either would particularly satisfy readers seeking puzzles above all else. I didn’t find it especially hard to work out what was going on in either, although both — especially the latter — contained a final sting in the tail that caught me by surprise.

What entirely captivated me was the sheer quality of Allingham’s prose. The last couple of Allinghams I’ve read have been early works, deliberately chosen as such for reasons that now escape me. (One was fairly interesting, the other was pretty dreadful.) I’ve read Tiger in the Smoke several times and just about all of the other Campion novels at least once, but, even so, I’d forgotten just how well Allingham could write after she’d served her early apprenticeship. Of the two novellas here I preferred the second because, with its more complicated setup and plot and its larger cast of characters, there was ampler scope for Allingham’s narrative mastery to show its full colors.

These aren’t, to emphasize, core pieces of Allingham’s work, but they’re highly entertaining and certainly worth reading once you’ve exhausted the standard canon or if you’d like to dip your toe before plunging into a full-length novel.

4 thoughts on “book: Take Two at Bedtime (1949; vt Deadly Duo) by Margery Allingham

  1. Pretty sure I might have something from her in the tubs. I seem to recall hoovering up one from each the GA “greats”, I’ll stick with whatever that is for now.

    • Just be sure it’s not The Crime at Black Dudley! That’s the one of hers that I thought was really pretty poor. (I read a collection of her short stories, too, at some point, and was likewise a tad underimpressed. Trouble is, I now can’t remember which of her collections it was!)

  2. This will sound ridiculous, but what is it about those vintage Penguin covers that make books seem so appealing? There is no photo, no fancy font, just the facts, ma’am – and yet, I’m drawn to these covers before any other.

    • I’m the same with those covers — and likewise the old Gollancz yellowjackets (not sure how much those reached Canada). They signaled to me all the way across the bookstore/library that here was a book at least worth looking at and almost certainly worth reading. Before I came to the US in 1999 I had a pretty big collection of Green Penguins, but I foolishly sold them all — too many of them for pennies.

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