Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Traitor's Purse

The fact that I read probably all in the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys series, then went on to read several of the adventures of Hercule Poirot plus all those of Sherlock Holmes, should tell you that I have nothing against the genre. It's just not my favourite. But I've recently widened my repertoire, having discovered Albert Campen. Campen doesn't quite fit into the list above as he is a real detective; all the others are amatuers who are always able to solve the mystery where the clueless police cannot.

Albert Campen was created by Margert Allingham, a British novelist who is credited with bringing the detective fiction to maturity. The BBC produced adaptations of eight of her novels during the 1980s.

This one novel of hers that I've read has piqued my interest. In Traitior's Purse Campen completely loses his memory and must at the same time prevent a... er, what you might call an act of terror; it's bigger in scale than a regular crime as it would affect the whole nation. Considering that the novel is set sometime between the two world wars, what do you think that might be?

If the storyline seems unlikely to you, you're probably right, but Allingham's witty, if archaic style, is engaging. For instance she has Amanda remark about Campen's 'magnificent reticence' which is funny because Campen is keeping his mouth shut so as not to appear stupid. The phrase stuck in my mind because I know someone with a magnificent reticence.

The hint that Campen has grown-up in this novel makes me want to meet the the pre-Purse version of him. The amnesiac Campen wonders about himself, what kind of man is he, if his enemy could so confidently expect to bribe him? He is also less inclined to believe he's the hinge upon which all things rest.

I also liked the reading about the interwar years from someone who lived through the time. It's believed that the arts puts a human dynamic to what all we get from the historians, archeologists and such.

You will find some racist remarks in the novel. Like there is a man 'with the bright little eyes and thin rodent's face of his race', which should evoke an unbecoming "what the..." from anyone living on this side of time.

You will also find a few sexist remarks in Traitors Purse - like Allingham says that Amanda handled a situation manfully- but you'll forgive her for she was still way ahead of her time. For one, our hero's sidekick is a woman. That's a big deal. And she is intelligent, tough and fearless. That's another big contrast to the shrinking violets that grace some of these older novels.

There is no apparent relationship between the novel and the title. Well it might have eluded me.

Barring these (and a very uninviting illustration in the penguin publication I read) Traitor's Purse makes an intriguing diversion.

1 comment:

Abeni said...

Never heard of the author but will make a note of her.