Tag Archives: Lord Emsworth

Coroner’s Pidgin

A review if Coroner’s Pidgin by Margery Allingham

It must be very disconcerting to come back home after three years’ service overseas and find the body of a dead woman whom you do not recognise in your bed. This is what happens to Allingham’s sleuth, Albert Campion, at the start of this, his twelfth adventure, originally published in 1945 and which goes by the alternative title, Pearls before Swine in the States. All Campion wants to do is have a bath, change his clothes and catch a train to Nidd for reasons which are revealed in a touching, if somewhat sentimental, finale which must resonated with many of Allingham’s contemporary readers. Instead, Campion is drawn unwillingly into a mystery which involves traitors and the theft of the nation’s precious artefacts.

There is a very modern feel to the book as it can be read as a meditation on whether certain people are above the law simply because of who they are. Lady Carados, who has moved the body from her son’s flat with the assistance of the wonderful Magersfontein Lugg, who has gone all Lord Emsworth-like, is portrayed as a force of nature who believes she has the right to do whatever she wants and is oblivious to the requirements of the police or the fact that her actions are only serving to incriminate her. Johnny, her son, also seems to be above the law. When he inadvertently poisons an old friend, his friends are more concerned about protecting him than the fact that he may have committed attempted manslaughter. Our Prime Minister – this review was written in mid-May – is just the latest in a long line of such people.

Campion’s role in this story is rather ancillary to the plot rather than one that drives it forward. He has the unerring knack of being in the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) place at the right time, is fed information, overhears conversations, is able to put two and two together, but it is the police, principally his old mucker Stanislaus Oates assisted by Holly and Yeo, who put in the leg work to solve the mystery.

Characters drift in and out of the story, there are twists and turns in the plot lines, some red herrings, some cases of a rare wine, and an American GI who, unwittingly, is key to the unravelling of the plot to rob the nation of its prize treasures. The start of the war had seen the mass evacuation of treasures from London and other likely targets for German air raids but the hauliers, under the direction of a shadowy eminence grise, are not necessarily working in the nation’s best interests. All roads seem to lead to one of the characters in society’s gilded cage, but the rare wine convinces Campion otherwise.

Allingham is a superb writer, setting the scene and sketching her characters with aplomb, and maximising the opportunities for humour that her scenes offer. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Campion trying to come to terms with the altered state of London, the wrecked buildings, the damaged roads, making it all very disorientating and difficult to move around the capital. Campion’s experience must have been familiar to her contemporary readers, many of whom had to make major adjustments to their lives and recognise that their old comfortable, familiar world was a thing of the past.

It is not a complicated plot, by the standards of the Golden Age, and the culprit is, with a bit of thought, relatively easy to spot, but it is a thoroughly good read, one that I would highly recommend.

Book Corner – February 2020 (1)

Summer Lightning – P G Wodehouse

This is the third novel in the Blanding series, published in July 1929, initially in the United States under the title of Fish Preferred and then nineteen days later in England under its more commonly recognised title. It was serialised in the Pall Mall Magazine either side of the book’s publication, between March and August 1929, and in the US in Collier’s ahead of its being released in book form.

Since the initial Blandings’ story, Something Fresh, the castle seems to have been teleported to rural Shropshire, Lord Emsworth has taken up breeding prize pigs, The Empress of Blandings is his pride and joy and wins prizes at the County Agricultural Show, and the Efficient Baxter has been sacked from his role as secretary for allegedly throwing flower pots at his lordship and has been replaced by the love-lorn, hapless, Hugo Carmody.

The plots are rather formulaic involving broken engagements, imposters and attempts on the security of the pig. Hugo and Lord Emsworth’s nephew, Ronnie Fish, find themselves engaged to the wrong girls and se what limited ingenuity they possess to remedy their predicaments. Lady Constance plots to get the Efficient Baxter back in post. Sir Galahad is determined to embarrass the local aristocracy with saucy tales of their youthful improprieties in the Reminiscences he is beavering away. The obvious way to get his Lordship’s undying gratitude is to steal his pig and recover it. But what is a seemingly simple plan is complicated by the hiring of a detective, Percy Pilbeam, who, although he thinks finding a pig to be below his professional dignity, takes up the challenge because he has also been engaged to steal Sir Galahad’s manuscript.

All clear? There are more complexities than that but, suffice it to say, matters get more or less resolved satisfactorily with the Efficient Baxter humiliated once more and Pilbeam thwarted.

It is tempting to compare and contrast these stories with the Jeeves and Wooster stories. The Blandings stories with their third person narrative lose a little of the immediacy of the Wooster stories with their first person narrative and the butler, Beach, is a shadowier, less pivotal character than his more famous counterpart, more an accomplice than a resolver of tricky situations.         

But you don’t pick up a Wodehouse book to engage in formalised literary criticism. You should just pinch your nose and dive headlong into a wonderful world as far as detached from reality as you can get. The characters are stereotypes, for sure, but part of Wodehouse’s genius is to be able to wring the last drop of humour from their behaviour and luxuriate in his glorious dialogue and descriptive phrases that stay long in the memory. The opening sets the scene, “Blandings Castle slept in the sunshine. Dancing little ripples of heat-mist played across its smooth lawns and stone-flagged terraces. The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.” and once he’s off, Wodehouse never lets go.

It is a satire of sorts of the aristocrats and a world long since gone, if it ever existed. More importantly, it is the purest form of escapism and while you read it, the world and our place in it doesn’t seem too bad, after all.

Book Corner – December 2019 (1)

Something Fresh – P G Wodehouse

I always find the world that Wodehouse constructs is the perfect antidote to the madness of modern life and also a form of light relief from some of the heavier tomes I have been working my way through. This is the first of the Blandings books, published in 1915 and known in the United States as Something New, and introduces us to the absent-minded Lord Emsworth, his dim-witted son, Freddie Threepwood. and the butler, Beach.   

I have come to the Blandings books somewhat late and after reading a number of the tales of Jeeves and Wooster. Perhaps this was a mistake because I cannot help but conclude that, if this book is anything to go by, the miss that indefinable chemistry present in the relationship between Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Threepwood isn’t a patch on Bertie and Beach is a pale shadow of a figure compared to the inimitable Jeeves. I also found it harder to get into than other Wodehouse books.

That said, the Wodehouse aficionado will not be disappointed. There is the usual mix of eccentric characters and the plot, thin as prison gruel as it may be, provides the author with a canvas broad enough to let his comic imagination run wild. Much of the action takes place in Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth. On a rare visit up to London, his Lordship, in a moment of absent-mindedness, pocketed a rare Egyptian scarab, the pride and joy of an American millionaire, J Preston Peters.

Peters is unwilling to risk a scene by asking his Lordship directly for the return of his property, not least because his daughter is engaged to be married to Threepwood. Instead he hires a young crime novelist, Ashe Marson, to steal the item back. This is the cue for lots of skulking around in the middle of the night, mistakes, alliances, mishaps and food spillage. There is also some love interest, Ashe in pursuit of Joan Valentine, who is also on a mission to repatriate the scarab. The saga resolves itself, satisfactorily for all parties but that isn’t really the point of the book.

The point of the book is the language and it is very apparent that Wodehouse is limbering up to become the master of comedic image that he was in his pomp. Take this description of the impression that Beach made on Ashe when he first met him; “Ashe’s first impression of Beach, the butler, was one of tension. Other people, confronted for the first time with Beach, had felt the same. He had that strained air of being on the very point of bursting that one sees in bullfrogs and toy balloons”.        

And how about this for a mastery of economy in the use of language and yet painting an extremely funny image? “Lord Emsworth raised his revolver and emptied it in the direction of the sound. Extremely fortunately for him, the Efficient Baxter had not changed his all-fours attitude. This undoubtedly saved Lord Emsworth the worry of engaging a new secretary. The shots sang above Baxter’s head one after the other, six in all, and found other billets than his person. They disposed themselves as follows: The first shot broke a window and whistled out into the night; the second shot hit the dinner gong and made a perfectly extraordinary noise, like the Last Trump; the third, fourth and fifth shots embedded themselves in the wall; the sixth and final shot hit a life-size picture of his lordship’s grandmother in the face and improved it out of all knowledge”.

Wonderful stuff but not his best. And the Empress is nowhere to be seen. She doesn’t appear until the late 1920s.

A New Day Yesterday – Part Twenty


The proofed copy of my new book, Fifty Clever Bastards, came through one evening at midnight and I couldn’t resist the temptation to print the thing off there and then. Printers are wonderful things but at that time of the night you can well do without paper running out and ink cartridges needed replacing. Still, after about 45 minutes of fulminating, cursing modern technology and feeding the voracious jaws of my printer with paper and ink, I had my baby in my arms.

I decided not to read it at that late hour – a wise decision if there ever was one – and waited until the morning. What became apparent as I worked my way through the script was that whilst there were very few typos, grammatical errors or infelicities of language, it didn’t have a cohesive feel about it. So I set about, no doubt to the annoyance of my editor, standardising date formats, headers and layout.

I noted each change on a separate Word document, hoping that my intentions with each change were crystal clear and that the editor would have no difficulty in interpreting my intentions. A second proof came through and so the process was repeated. It is amazing that however carefully you think you have read something and no matter how many times you go through the document, errors pop up in place where you had not observed them before. It is as though the document had a life of its own. Anyway, I nailed most, if not all, of the latest batch of errors and signed the proof off.

The book was put into production in record time and I was filled with a sense of achievement when I got the email saying it was now on sale on Amazon. The receipt of the physical copies made it all seem real and, I’m pleased to say, early sales are promising. J K Rowling has nothing to worry about – at least at the moment. If you are interested, check the link in the Publications section of this blog.


Rather like Lord Emsworth I derived a lot of pleasure contemplating the progress of my other pet hobby, my pumpkins. I shared the dismay he felt when the Empress started to lose weight when I noticed that my fruits had stopped growing. Worse still, they started to wrinkle and shrivel. Despite lots of water and supplements there were no sign of any improvement.

Readers may recall my attempts to control our garden snail population attracted the interest of no less an organ than the Wall Street Journal. Well, sad to relate, the snails have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and wrought their revenge. Spotting a free meal they munched with gusto on my ailing pumpkins leaving me with no alternative but to cut them off and throw the fruits on the compost heap. When the don of British gardening, Monty of that ilk, announces on Gardeners’ World that it is a poor year for pumpkins I knew I was on a hiding to nothing.

But nature is if nothing resilient. More fruits have started to appear and the whole process of pollination is in train. I suspect they will be too late to be whoppers but after the setbacks and disappointments of this year, just to have one modest sized one to give BoJ1 would be a triumph. Surely, that is not too much to ask, is it?