The Beckoning Lady (Margery Allingham)

By Margery Allingham

First published: UK, Chatto & Windus, 1955

My review

Allingham - The Beckoning LadyAllingham obviously intended this as a light-hearted celebration, for the story is set in Pontisbright (scene of Sweet Danger), involves the murder of Uncle William Faraday, cameos by characters from The Case of the Late Pig and a thinly disguised version of Allingham and Youngman Carter (whose alter ego is childish and rather unpleasant, given to rages and wife-beating, which everyone excuses because he’s so charming).  Unfortunately there’s very little in the book itself to celebrate: the plot and detection are both thin, the income tax laws are too fantastic to be funny and the murderer’s identity is very weak.  Oh how funny Miss Allingham thinks she is, how bright and witty as she pokes fun at everyone who isn’t either well-bred, artistic or both!

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 1st July 1955):

[Unlike Ngaio Marsh in Scales of Justice] Miss Allingham gets the rank right but makes Scotland Yard depart again from its custom to allow Divisional Detective Chief Inspector Luke (mysteriously about to become head of the Flying Squad) to interrupt his sick leave to answer the local Chief Constable’s appeal for help in a murder enquiry.  The writing is gay and affectionate, though, and the pages are crowded – perhaps a little too crowded – with amusing people, including Albert Campion, Lady Amanda and the redoubtable Lugg.  The Honourable Prune is a charming piece of portrait-painting and the glimpses of her encounter with her policeman-lover’s mother are only too few; Minnie Cassands, the painter, also charms, no less so for her troubles with the Inland Revenue authorities, which amount to an up-to-date exposure of the fallacy that two can live more cheaply than one.  Her eccentric husband somehow contrives to remain an acceptable character, as do the other oddities who appear, country folk, millionaires, children…  Miss Allingham has obviously revelled in bringing them all together in an atmosphere at times quaintly reminiscent of Jeffery Farnol and Mr. Michael Arlen combined and the detective thread of the book seems to exist in spite rather than because of the people in it.  It is the pleasant, fantastic folk she has gathered that linger when the book is laid aside; the mystery, in retrospect, does not seem to have been very important.


Elizabeth Bowen:

A lovely and bewitching story…Miss Allingham’s extraordinary imagination commands the reader from the beginning to end.  By classification this is a detective story; and, as such, admirable in structure.  It will be missed by no connoisseur of the genre…You don’t care for “crime”, you say?  Take a chance on this!


Birmingham Post:

The best detective-story noticed in these columns for very many years.  It is stuffed with invention and has all the bustle and life of a Breughel painting…Here is a book in the direct line of descent from the heroic age of crime-fiction, making most detective stories look drab.


Times Literary Supplement (Reginald Hill, 5th April 1985):

Hogarth Crime continues its excellent reprint series with two novels from Margery Allingham’s later, more interesting post-war period.  This pair are nicely contrasted in many ways.  Hide My Eyes is set in London, mainly at its sleazier twilit level.  The Beckoning Lady is set in Suffolk, principally at the well-heeled middle-class end.  Hide My Eyes explores the psychology of a killer and makes the reader face up to the implications of his crimes; The Beckoning Lady is much jollier and full of rustic quips, cranks and wanton wiles.  Both feature Albert Campion, who improved so much with age, and both display those skills of plotting and elegances of style which encompass the whole range of Margery Allingham’s writing.