Coroner’s Pidgin (Margery Allingham)

By Margery Allingham

First published: UK, Heinemann, 1945; US, Doubleday, 1945, as Pearls Before Swine

Blurb (UK)

Allingham - Coroner's Pidgin.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

A Campion story is a story for “the Connoisseur of Detective Fiction”.  It is for those who like their crime dry and sparkling, delicate in bouquet if powerful in effect.  In this successor to Traitor’s Purse the vintage is at its best.  Mr. Albert Campion, who has been unavoidably absent from this country on a mission for the Government so secret that, as he prefers to say, he never found out quite what it was, returned to London to find uncensored adventure awaiting him.  Within an hour of his arrival, as he lay peacefully in the first hot bath of home, slowly the body came up the stairs.

My review

“The situation was so macabre, the possibilities so unpleasant, the characters so illustrious, and the explanations so humanly silly that it left him speechless.”

A good book, in which Campion, recently returned from the war, is disturbed by Lugg and one of Allingham’s grande dames, carrying a corpse up the staircase of his flat.  This ties in with stolen bottles of wine (amazingly complex and rather difficult to understand), looted lorries and a war hero (the grande dame’s son) suspected of Fifth Column activities, and in whose pre-marital bed the dead woman was discovered.  Allingham’s characterisation is remarkably vivid, and she is a great writer—she makes one want to read on.  Entertaining but somehow too complex to bring the book into the top rank.

Contemporary reviews

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 21st April 1945):

When a lady novelist becomes too fond of her detective hero, she can’t bear to frustrate the fellow in any way; and her plots degenerate automatically into thrillers.  Lord Peter Wimsey was a sad instance of such misguided affection.  Coroner’s Pidgin is another piece of cake dished up for Albert Campion to munch.  Albert returns unexpectedly to London from saving the Empire out Cairo way, to find a marchioness stealthily depositing a dead female in his bed with the help of his batman Lugg – the melodramatic opening to an exciting saga of the black market, the aristocracy and unspeakable Naziness.  Miss Allingham is, of course, never dull.  Her Albert’s virtuosity is bound to hold our attention, but his easy triumphs will hardly command our respect.  I fear the black market is so black that no respectable writer can touch it without becoming defiled.


Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 28th April 1945):


Several leading experts have brought out new detective stories this spring.  Few can compare with Miss Margery Allingham’s Coroner’s Pidgin.  Besides being a most ingenious puzzle it mingles a sense of the grim with a lively humour and the authentic atmosphere of bombed London with pig-keeping in the squares.  That terrifying woman Lady Carados uses civilian defence in order to remove a corpse which inconveniences her.  Characters equally formidable spring to life in most chapters.  There is a preposterous plot which somehow becomes almost alarmingly real.