Margery Allingham

I love Margery Allingham. She wrote mystery novels for the most part; many could be categorized as adventure stories too. But it's not usually the plot of her novels that I love (although I have no complaint about the way she spun a yarn). I don't care who dun it. I don't find myself racing towards the ending, dying to know how it all comes out. No. What I love are Allingham's characters and her descriptions of universal human feelings and behaviour—so often, I find myself thinking, "Yes... that's captured it exactly." And often it's just a word or two in a passage that does the trick.

I just re-read The Fashion in Shrouds, first published in 1938. The first thing that struck me was the simple phrase "sickening deterioration" that Allingham uses to describe the feeling that one gets when one's love is gradually losing interest and one knows it. Perfect.

And how about this, a paragraph that appears near the beginning of Chapter 8 after an embarrassing scene at a restaurant:

It was a comic moment but it passed too soon, leaving only a growing sense of embarrassment as half-a-dozen diners at other tables swung round to stare with that insolence which comes from an attempt to look casual, or perhaps invisible, before they returned to warn their companions not to look round immediately.

Insolence. Without that word, I suspect the paragraph would not have caught my eye. I certainly wouldn't be telling you about it. But its presence made me stop and read the passage through a couple of times, relishing the aptness of the description.

No comments: