Yesterday, I was delighted be invited to another event for bloggers hosted by the estates department of PFD (literary agents Peters Fraser & Dunlop) at the Groucho Club. Their Simenon event a few months ago was excellent. This time, they were featuring the work of two authors – Margery Allingham and Eric Ambler.
Surprisingly, I’ve never read Allingham who was regarded, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, as one of the ‘Queens of Crime’ but I do remember enjoying the TV series Campion which starred Peter Davison in the title role with Brian whatshisname (Yorkshire wrestler chap) as Lugg, his manservant.
Luckily Barry Pike, the Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society was on hand to introduce us to her work and make some recommendations on the best books to start with. He recommends Look to the Lady – the third novel to feature Campion, published in 1931, as one of her very best and an ideal starting point to get to know the author rather than the first, The Crime at Black Dudley. The Tiger in the Smoke is probably her most famous book, having been filmed, but being a post-war novel is quite different in feel. Barry was a darling to talk to, endlessly knowledgeable about his special interest, and sporting a tie featuring a drawing of Albert Campion by Allingham’s husband, Pip Youngman Carter.
I am really looking forward to reading Look to the Lady, coming home with a copy of that one and Sweet Danger.
Before the talks began, I was mingling in a small group having spotted Sakura, and I was raving about The Mask of Dimitrios (which I reviewed here) and it being the novel that James Bond reads on a plane in … and couldn’t remember which Bond book it was (From Russia with Love). I didn’t realise it was Simon Brett opposite me until we were introduced – apologies for my babbling!
Brett gave a fascinating short talk about Ambler, illustrated with some great quotes. Ambler was an engineer, and capable of explaining complex mechanisms etc plainly and concisely – which is a real skill! He also wanted to get away from the Golden Age mysteries which all require a suspension of belief being set in their own little worlds. He wrote about more real adventures, like Graham Greene without the allegorical slant and a bit more humour. His typical protagonists are ordinary men who get involved in events not of their choosing, but discover inner reserves to take control. His villains are also real, a step away from the dastards that had populated crime fiction and thrillers for so long. Brett recommended The Mask of Dimitrios from 1939 as one of his finest, and as Ambler’s novels are all stand-alone, there is no need to read in order.
I came home with several more Ambler novels to read including The Light of Day – which was filmed as Topkapi, and thriller-fan that I am, I know I’ll enjoy them a lot.
It was also lovely to see Kim there too, and I’m sorry to have missed meeting Clare who was also at the Groucho. Many thanks to PFD for arranging another great afternoon and the publishers who supplied books for us to take away.