Dangerous dancing

Fred Astaire with his first partner, his sister, Adele
Another book adopted during my Hay-on-Wye book orphanage spree was Margery Allingham's classic Campion mystery, Dancers in mourning. I'm a huge fan of Allingham and Campion, and have read quite a few of the novels. They're all quite different in style, and some I've adored - Hide my eyes and Police at the funeral, for example. While others, such as Sweet Danger, didn't quite hit the mark. Dancers in mourning however is one of Allingham's finest, and was a complete delight to read.

It's one of those novels where Allingham manages to combine the very best of her skill as a crime novelist, while still keeping a lightness of touch in a novel that becomes increasingly serious as it progresses. Campion is thrown into a case which appears to start off as a classic case of spite, when a talented actor / dancer and all round family favourite is plagued by a series of silly and occasionally downright nasty tricks. Campion is asked to go down to the family home to try to get to the bottom of the mystery, but things rapidly turn a lot nastier; and it doesn't help that Campion's usual ability to detach himself from the situation becomes impossible when he unexpectedly (they way you do) falls in love.

Dancers in mourning is a stunning example of crime writing at its very best. As always with Allingham her characterisation is superb, with not even the smallest character neglected. Campion and his able side-kick, Lugg, have never been better portrayed, while the evil that can lie in the most unexpected of places is brought out into the full light of day. The savvy reader may be able to work out quite early on who is guilty of what, but it really doesn't matter; as with most Allingham, the puzzle ultimately is less important than the journey the reader is taken on to reach the conclusion. Margery Allingham was one of the great names of Golden Age Detective Fiction, and Dancers in Mourning shows you why she was considered to be one of the very best.

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