Originally published 1952
This edition: Reader’s Digest, 2005
Campion book 14
I read this book as part of the #1952book challenge hosted by Rich at Past Offences. It’s nice to do a quickie reading challenge, and it’s nice to broaden my reading horizons beyond books published in the last ten years.
I’m new to Margery Allingham and knew nothing about The Tiger in the Smoke before I read it. I knew it appears on best-read lists, and my edition in fact is for the Readers Digest Series “The Greatest Mysteries of All Time.” Happily, I agree that it’s a fabulous book.
First, a note about the title. The Tiger refers to the very interesting villain in this novel, Jack Havoc, and the smoke refers to the unusually thick and long-lasting fog enveloping London during the relatively short time this novel covers. The story involves multiple murders but begins with the mysterious reappearance of the presumed-deceased first husband of Meg, Campion’s niece, on the eve of her wedding to another man, Geoffrey Levett. The plot is intricate but not overwhelmingly complex, and the violence was a bit more than I expected. But besides the plot, the characters and the setting are what stood out for me.
The novel is partly a police procedural (Inspector Luke is the main police character, and he’s quite well-drawn), but not entirely so. Allingham spends plenty of time with Meg and her relations (including Campion) as well as the criminals in the story.
Jack Havoc is the character who stands out to me because not often if ever is a villain so real and not a cartoon. I was a little less happy with the scenes with two groups: those living with Canon Avril, who is Meg’s father, and the gang of criminals posing as band. There voices were distinct, but it was difficult to remember everyone’s back story when they were introduced in such a short time frame. This may be my problem with settling into a novel by a writer who’s new to me or reading something from 1952, which I don’t often do: I had to get used to Allingham’s style, and the first half of the novel is heavy on descriptions of people and their clothing as well as setting the foggy scene.
It’s a great read in terms of characters, thoughtfulness about evil and the lingering effects of World War II, and the plot. It feels more substantial and more memorable than many books I’ve read this year, and I’m glad I read it.