Sweet Danger, by Margery Allingham- Campion it up…

Imagine John Le Mesurier playing Columbo in a screenplay by PG Wodehouse and you pretty much have Albert Campion. Disingenuous, effete and seemingly vacant, Margery Allingham’s bespectacled adventurer appeared in 20 novels and short story anthologies. For reasons we will touch on later, Sweet Danger is one of the pivotal ones. If you like your mysteries fast-paced, witty and more than a little bonkers, then these are the books for you.

Having recently become the de facto Hereditary Paladin of Averna, a small but oil rich outpost of the empire (you wanted bonkers…), Campion has returned to Britain to reunite the rightful title holders, the penniless Fitton family, with their birthright and to thwart the designs of the tycoon Bret Savernake on Averna’s mineral riches. That’s right, a grasping oligarch from the world of business planning to steamroller the heads of smaller nations to achieve his aims. Of course, this is fiction and could never happen in real life…

Throw in an ancient prophecy carved into a wooden bole (one for the arborealists!), a black magic-loving village doctor, a bit of cross-dressing and a very early sound system held in the wilds of West Suffolk and you have an enjoyably off-the-wall 250 or so pages. The fun of Sweet Danger comes from the prose as much as the dialogue; like Wodehouse, Allingham has not always been well served in Campion’s few TV outings, due to both authors’ turns of phrase becoming necessary casualties in the move off the page. Some of this is probably down to the character of Campion himself, though.

In Campion, we have a central character that is simultaneously meant to be a vague, distant figure (Amanda Fitton even asks him at one point whether he’s following what’s going on) that everyone underestimates AND a shady figure with underworld connections who can call on the support of the government if he needs to. He’s a crack shot with a pistol and can hide in plain sight for weeks dressed as an elderly spinster. You just buy into it because everything else is so OTT. Rogue Male it is not. It’s easy to see how the character could become a bit wearing if not presented with the freewheeling gusto the tale of a potentate of a small nation battling East Anglian pagans for a mythical crown really needs.

Finally, Sweet Danger is the one where Campion meets his future wife. It’s probably best they got all his little foibles out in the open early doors…