Cargo of Eagles (Margery Allingham)

By Margery Allingham

First published: UK, Chatto & Windus, 1968


My review

Allingham - Cargo of Eagles.jpgSurprisingly good, considering that this was the author’s last book, left unfinished at her death and completed by Philip Youngman Carter, and that it follows the ghastly Mind Readers.  Instead of a plotless rambling catastrophe one may have expected, we have what is possibly her best (certainly her most entertaining) work since More Work for the Undertaker.  The setting is the Essex village of Saltey, first cousin to Howling and Saxon Wall, with its criminally-inclined natives, long history of smuggling, and, in the present, modern piracy, espionage, murder, poison-pen and half-buried village scandals, demonstrating “the basic human delight in doing evil if the opportunity to do so undetected occurs.”  These ingredients, combined with a busy plot, make for an energetic story with plenty of romance and adventure.

On his final appearance in Allingham’s works, Campion is rather an odd figure, a chameleon and weaver of webs, rather than the gallant adventurer of youth, as he hovers mysteriously in the background, organising extremely subtle plots only half understood by the reader.


Contemporary reviews

Time (12th January 1968):

FAREWELL TO CAMPION

When England’s Margery Allingham died last year at 62, her fans mourned the fact that she took the great detective Albert Campion with her.  Actually, the diffident, gentlemanly amateur of Miss Allingham’s mysteries survived his creator briefly.  In her posthumous Cargo of Eagles, he pulls all the disparate pieces together for the last time.  He will be missed.

Right to the end, plump, kindly Miss Allingham kept her scene fresh and her characters contemporary.  In this one, a seedy village on a saltwater marsh near London leaps uncomfortably to life as the English counterparts of California’s Hell’s Angels come roaring in on their motorcycles to help jam the gears of a tricky plot.  Almost languidly, Campion shows up enough to see through the ways of evil, to bait and set the trap for the malefactors.

At Margery Allingham’s death, the London Times ranked her with Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie.  Those encomiums may start arguments among the cognoscenti, but all can join in praising her forthright attitude to her trade: “In the old days writers just worried about finding a novel way to kill the victim.  I think now writers have found out that the best way to kill somebody is to hit him over the head with a blunt instrument.”  For her purposes, as in Cargo of Eagles, the murder was an offstage happening, merely a cue for Albert Campion’s fine mind to go to work.

Miss Allingham’s death again raises the question why so many of the great mystery writers are women.  Perhaps the endless war between the sexes has taught women the necessary patience, ingenuity—and the knowledge that the guilty are transparently devious.

 

Times Literary Supplement (25th January 1968):

CRIMINISCULE

Margery Allingham died in 1966, leaving this, her last book, unfinished.  It has been completed by her husband, Youngman Carter, and stands as a properly enjoyable literary memorial to a thriller and detective writer who will be much missed.  This book is rather thriller than detection.  It is set in an Essex village of peculiar nastiness, both historically and of today, and in it come together the two inescapably nice and not-to-be-suspected young people, the sinister motorcycled young gangs, old crooks of various kinds and, of course Albert Campion and his man Lugg, taking their last bow together.