Tuesday, 1 August 2000

Margery Allingham: Traitor's Purse (1941)

Edition: Penguin, 1993
Review number: 559

Traitor's Purse is one of my favourite Campion novels, notwithstanding the absurdities of the plot. Campion struggling with amnesia while trying to save the country from a sinister plot of some kind - though he can't remember what - is one of Allingham's most human creations, transcending the cold caricature of her early novels. (It is not that I don't enjoy the earlier novels, it's just that it's here that Campion becomes real.)

The novel's big problem is connected with the amnesia. It is hardly believable that Campion should refrain from telling the woman who appears to be his fiancée - whom he actually recognises as someone he knows well - that he cannot remember a thing from before he woke up in hospital. It adds to the poignancy of his situation, as he cannot remember the in jokes and shared experiences that are so important in a close relationship, yet it is an extremely unlikely situation.

There are other unlikely aspects to the novel, including the scheme that Campion is meant to be investigating. It is more a thriller than a detective story, because of the character of the investigation, yet it has a special place in the sequence of crime novels in which it falls.

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