Last week, I attended another bloggers event at the Groucho Club in London to celebrate the work of classic crime writers Margery Allingham and Eric Ambler with short talks delivered by Barry Pike, a founder and Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society, and Simon Brett, a crime writer and Ambler expert. I developed an interest in classic crime fiction after reading Martin Edwards’ compendium of the genre The Golden Age of Murder last summer which outlined the lives and works of key members of the Detection Club in the early 20th century including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley among others. I was therefore very keen to learn more about two other crime writers whose names were familiar to me but whose novels I had never read before.
Margery Allingham (1904 -1966) wrote over 20 novels and several short stories in her lifetime. Joining the Detection Club in 1934, she is best known for her mystery stories featuring Albert Campion and also published work under the pseudonym Maxwell March. Pike explained that Campion was a more comic and relatively minor character in early novels such as ‘The Crime at Black Dudley’ which suggests that Allingham hadn’t originally intended for him to be a recurring main character while Dorothy L. Sayers also made significant changes to the character of Lord Peter Wimsey in her later novels. Although ‘The Tiger in the Smoke’ is arguably Allingham’s most well-known novel and the only one to be adapted for the big screen, Pike doesn’t think it is her best. Instead he recommends ‘Hide My Eyes’, ‘Traitor’s Purse’ and ‘Death of a Ghost’ while her later work tends to be much more dense.
Eric Ambler (1909-1998) joined the Detection Club in 1952 and wrote 18 novels and many short stories over a long career. Brett described his work as being heavily realist with set-ups usually based on putting amateur spies and ordinary people in extraordinary situations. For this reason, unlike Allingham, the majority of his work doesn’t focus on one central protagonist, although some characters occasionally feature in more than one novel. As a screenwriter, he was nominated for an Oscar for ‘The Cruel Sea’ and adapted many of his own novels for the big screen. Brett recommends ‘The Mask of Dimitrios’ (also known as ‘A Coffin for Dimitrios’ in the United States) and ‘The Levanter’ as his favourite Ambler novels.
Many thanks to PFD for the invitation to the event. I was also lucky enough to pick up some review copies of some recent reissues of novels by Ambler and Allingham and I will be doing at least one review round-up of some classic crime fiction at some point next year.
Have you read any Eric Ambler or Margery Allingham novels? Who are your favourite Golden Age crime novelists?