Monday, January 18, 2016

In Which the Author Courts Bookish Scandal

Is there a well-regarded classic mystery that you’ve read and didn’t see what all the fuss was about? Why not?

-from Susan

This week’s question is perfectly designed to get us all on the wrong foot with readers, writers, and obsessive fans. Thank you, questionmeisters.

I’ll wade in as Monday’s victim, and it isn’t hard because I recently had the experience of not getting what all the fuss was about when an online reading group I lurk in chose a book to discuss by the late Margery Allingham.

The Case of the Late Pig (I can hear you crying out now:  “Oh, I loved that book, it’s an all-time favorite, how can she say she didn’t adore it?”) falls into the brilliant-witty-snobbish-rich-amateur-sleuth-and-his-snobbier-still-manservent category. I could not attach myself to Allingham’s sleuth, Campion, his butler-manservant Lugg, or any of the harrumphing or pouty paper dolls that were positioned here and there among the pastoral scenery, country homes, or sleek old cars. The scenes felt to me like dioramas into which Campion and/or Lugg and/or the perky young women who were after Campion were carefully positioned for a scene, then swiftly, unceremoniously snatched up. The plot was tricky, but hinged on a couple of clues dropped like bricks into two early scenes then carefully ignored until the very end.

Maybe it was my mood at the time. Maybe it was my digestive system, or that I had read too many classic mysteries in the past few months. I have had that reaction to the Hercules Poirot TV shows on occasion, when I just want David Suchet to take one big stride or Hugh Fraser to wipe that startled deer expression off his face and actually figure something – anything – out.

All I can say is, in spite of the fact that Margery Allingham has devoted fans everywhere, that her books have sold billions and billions of copies and are still in print, and that I will be verbally stoned for saying it, The Case of the Late Pig was my first and probably last taste of her humorous series.

(Equal time: The Margery Allingham Society thrives. There’s a Facebook page for it and they give a big cash award to a writer whose work conveys Ms. Allingham’s spirit. She is widely loved, admired, honored.)

(Worry: Will the members of the Society now savage my books on Amazon as punishment for my candor? This is especially worrisome because the third Dani O'Rourke Mystery, Mixed Up with Murder, comes out February 2.)


Art Taylor said...

Susan -- It's interesting about some of those Golden Age mysteries, the devotion they still inspire, and then some of those elements like you're responding to......

The Washington Independent Review of Books asked its contributors about character who they just couldn't stand, and (courting trouble myself) I said that while I loved Dorothy Sayers' books and loved Harriet Vane muchly, I sometimes couldn't stand Lord Peter himself.... and boy did I hear from fans!

Good luck dodging those Allingham fanatics. They're legion. ;-)


Catriona McPherson said...

The Case of The Late Pig is not one of her best, imo. If you ever did want to try again, I'd recommnened The Beckoning lady (truly bonkers) or The China Governess (chilling).

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Art. May I hide behind you when the hordes come at me?!

Catriona, since it's you recommending it, I am willing to give your suggested title a try some chilly evening when the fire's going and my tummy's full of a hearty soup and I'm feeling quite mellow. Thanks.