Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Enjoying an old 'tec

In keeping with my current preoccupation, I've dipped back into my childhood years again with this excellent Penguin Classic, The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. I'm sorry about the blurred illustration - it's the one I found on Amazon which is identical to my own copy, and I was delighted to be able to slip it into my reticule for a flight to London last week. I've remarked before on how wonderfully practical these older Penguins are, with their small bulk and small print - have we all become averse to reading something that looks densely-packed on the page?

I first read my parents' hardback copy of this book in my early teens, and although I haven't read it since, the sense of menace lingered over the years. It's a wonderfully-written 'tec novel; the language is sophisticated and delightful and never misses a beat. I knew I would love it afresh on the first page - "The fog had crept into the taxi where it stood panting in a traffic jam" - and this Eliot-like fog is the "smoke" of the title. As a novel, it obeys the classic unities of place and time for over three quarters of its length, taking place over two days in a restricted area of London in a dense post-war fog.

The tension throughout is maintained by that fog, and by the sense that the forces of evil are somehow connected to even the most innocent-seeming protagonist in the story. And although I began to remember just as the denouement came into sight, the need to pursue the plot to its conclusion was as powerful as I can recall experiencing. This is one of Allingham's later stories involving Albert Campion, and all the better for it - though I may find myself scouring Amazon for one of the earlier ones.

If you haven't tried any of these stories, this is a good place to start. I envy you.


  1. Your post sent me scurrying to my bookshelves, which I have been purging this week. The Oxfam bookshop on Byres Road is having a "Make crime pay" month and seeking donations of crime fiction - of which I have accumulated quite a lot over the years. They've now got - or will soon get - all my works of Ross McDonald, Ed McBain, Dell Shannon, Ellery Queen and some other odds and ends. Eventually they will get the 45 cases of Perry Mason which I have hoarded since University days! But to our muttons...

    I still intend to keep the 9 works of Margery Allingham, the 22 of Ngaio Marsh, the 7 of Josephine Tey, the 14 of Emma Lathen, the 12of Edmund Crispin, the 9 of Michael Innes, the 6 of P D James, the 12 of Ellis Peters and a few dozen assorted others (Peter Lovesey, Robert van Gulik, Michael Gilbert, etc., etc., anyone?).

    A list of titles for borrowing is available to the abovesigned!

  2. We plainly share a past - even more than the one I already know about!

  3. Well snap yous two! I found one of those green copies second hand some months ago and I'm enjoying the anticipation as it sits on the shelf. I too first read 'Tiger'aeons ago! Cannae wait.
    Does 'The Moving Toyshop' ring a bell? (Sorry) Can't boast anything like such a comprehensive collection ABF but I know where to come. You do know there's a Raymond chandler series starting on Radio 4?

  4. Crispin's "Moving Toyshop" is a long-established fave that had me helpless with laughter the first time I read it - another one from my teens!