There were cold waves playing up and down his spine. This was truly frightful. Some terrible responsibility rested upon him and not only had he no recollection of what it was, but he was helpless, incapacitated by an obscene mental weakness from doing anything about it.
Traitor’s Purse, Margery Allingham
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Wow! What a book. Traitor’s Purse, the 11th Campion book by Margery Allingham is outstanding. I started my vacation reading a bit ahead of vacation and had a hard time putting this one down so that I got some sleep during a weekend conference before I left town. It’s that good.
Campion comes to in a hospital and has no idea who he is or where he is. The tension and anxiety build from there. Allingham expertly threads Campion through bits of remembering and heaps of not knowing to craft a tense mystery. And it’s a mystery to everyone, not just to the reader. Poor Campion is lost, floundering in a sea of things that are just beyond his reach and comprehension.
The tension and anxiety reach a fever pitch. And just when you think there’s no way the puzzle will be solved or the day will be saved, everything slides into focus. Campion is somehow himself even when he doesn’t know who he is. His ingrained habits, his underlying traits, his clear nature carry him through, and he does, of course, save the day as he always does. Although not without a few hard knocks.
“Apparently, he was a responsible person. It seemed a pity he had lost half his mind.”
While I loved the tension built by the wartime atmosphere in other books, like ECR Lorac's Murder by Matchlight or Brat Farrar, I’ve never read anything like Traitor’s Purse. Allingham and Campion became fast favorites of mine as soon as I dug into the books, and this one is top of my list right now. The story builds in such a well-crafted and well-written way. The reader bumbles along with Campion, not understanding how things fit together or what might be important, which heightens the usual feeling of the reader (in my experience at least) and ratchets up the tension that much more.
The ending wasn’t a classic Campion scheme. Well, not quite. It was a scheme, but the clues to how it was going to end were clearly dropped along the way and I could see where it was going and how it was going to end. Knowing that didn’t make it disappointing at all, though. Allingham’s prose and Campion’s frank outlook make the books and there are plenty of both to go around in this one. As far as wartime books go, you just cannot skip this one.
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