Timothy Kinnit is rich, handsome, and successful, but his past is a mystery to him. When he learns, on the eve of his elopement, that he is adopted, he must question everything he thought he knew.
In desperate search of answers, Kinnit calls on private detective Albert Campion to shed some light on his past, and how it connects him to the notorious Turk Street Mile slum. Meanwhile, his illustrious adopted family has a sinister secret of its own—involving a murderous nineteenth-century governess—that must also be brought to light by Campion’s investigations.
“Allingham is very, very good and those who are not familiar with her have a discovery awaiting them.”—Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Date of Birth:May 20, 1904
Date of Death:June 30, 1966
Place of Birth:London
Place of Death:Colchester, Essex, England
Education:Endsleigh House School, Colchester; the Perse School, Cambridge; and the Regent Street Polytechnic, London
Read an Excerpt
In the expectant greyness which was only just less than the night's dark a cock crowed twice. Instantly, from the rise behind the wayside station a second rooster answered him, and with this unearthly sound, the whole ritual of daybreak began.
In the red sports-car which was pulled up on the lane's verge below the station drive, the two young people who were asleep in each other's arms moved drowsily. The girl's lips were still against the cheek of the young man beside her and she completed the kiss which sheer weariness had interrupted before she opened her eyes. 'Oh no,' she protested sleepily. 'No. Not morning yet, surely?'
'Julia!' The boy was all over awake at once, his eyes bright as the lids flickered open. He returned her kiss joyfully and glanced down at the watch on his wrist; his forehead crumpled and he sat up. 'So much for our careful planning! We've slept for two solid hours and the train will be here in fifteen minutes. Oh hell! You'll have to go down to the Keep alone. Do you mind?'
'I feel as if I shall never mind anything ever. It may wear off but it hasn't yet,' she said blithely. She was kneeling up on the seat and he put his arms round her waist and hugged her. 'But if I'm to get your car under cover by daylight I'd better go now, which is a bit heart-rending ... you're sure Nanny Broome really is a hundred per cent on our side?'
'Completely.' His voice was muffled as he rubbed his face against her chest with weary longing. 'I telephoned before I collected you. Anyhow, she's almost my foster-mum. She's always on my side.' He sat up to look at her seriously. 'I gave her the full details. I told her what we had in mind.'
She met his eyes squarely, her own round and grave.
'Was she scandalized?'
'Lord no. She was thrilled to bits.' He shivered slightly. 'And so am I.'
'Me too.' Julia was just visible in the cold light. She was a very pretty girl: not very tall, but slender, with fine bones and hair so dark as to be almost black. Her skin was thick and white and unpainted and her bright blue eyes and determined mouth echoed her father's considerable personality. He was Anthony Laurell, head of the Laurell light engineering empire and youngest self-made tycoon in Britain, and one of the most interesting characters in industry. Julia was just eighteen, warm and gay as a lamb, and every detail of her cared-for, well-dressed appearance acknowledged that she was somebody's very precious only child. At the moment she was absorbed, peering down into the shadowed face raised to her own.
'Your smile is like lace,' she said.
'Lace?' He was hardly flattered.
'Decorative.' She was entirely serious. 'It sort of trims you up and makes you glorious.'
'You're idiotic,' he muttered through his kiss. 'Sweet and certifiable and I love you, I love you. God! I love you. Darling, I've got to catch this dreary train back to London but tonight ...' His voice broke with a disarming helplessness which pinked them both like a sword. 'Tonight I'll come back and find you and damn everybody else in the world.' He pushed her firmly away and climbed out of the car.
'Hello?' He swung round in the fast growing light and she saw him for the first time all over again. He had a rangy body, a distinctive, characterful face, grey arrogant eyes and a wide thin mouth whose lines could curt and broaden like copperplate handwriting. He was twenty-two and all the panoply of masculine physical charm which had earned him a host of admiring contemporaries, even in the Oxford where they both were students, was at its freshest and best. To see all this giddy power and splendour helpless before her was a part of the enchantment which bound her and she caught her breath before it.
'I don't want you to go back to London!'
'Nor do I, lady! But I've got to. I've got to see your old man and have it out with him. His trip to Ireland made it possible for me to get you away and safe here while I talk, but we can't just clear out into the blue.'
'Why not?' She was coaxing. 'Honestly, I don't care any more about anything in the world except being with you. Two months ago I'd rather have committed suicide than upset Daddy or get in the newspapers. Now I just can't care.'
The young man put his hands on either side of her face and looked down at her like a child with a treasure.
'You go on thinking just like that and leave the rest to me,' he said earnestly. 'But I can't face the thought of you and me being turned into a nice Sunday "read" for half-wits. It was foolhardy and inconsiderate of your old man to call the whole thing off suddenly, just when his own invitations to the engagement "do" were out, and he must have known that the gossip hounds would be down on us like a blight. I must talk to him. He can't have so much against me.'
'He hasn't. I told you I don't know why he suddenly vetoed the marriage, but he liked you and he liked your background and was impressed by the degree and the sports record and ...'
'Then why? For God's sake?'
'It was something to do with a letter he got from Miss Kinnit.'
'From Aunt Alison?' He was staring at her. 'Do you know what was in it?'
'No, or I'd have told you. I only knew it came. I didn't mean to mention it.' The dusky colour appeared in her cheeks. 'She was so nice to me. I thought she approved.'
'She does. She's a funny, cold old thing but terribly kind – after all she and Eustace are my only family and she was delighted about you. They keep teasing me about you being the deb of the year. This must be some completely idiotic misunderstanding. I'll go and put it right. Wait at the Keep and love me.'
From the embankment above there was a clatter as the signal fell and her arms closed round him possessively.
'I'd still rather you didn't go. I'll hold you. I'll make you miss the train.'
He released himself gently. 'Please don't,' he said gravely but with great sweetness, his lips close to her ear. 'You hurt too much. Too much altogether.' And turning from her he ran up the slope into the half-light which was already throbbing with the noise of the train.
Julia sat listening until the engine had shrieked away into the fields once more and then with a sense of desolation she let in the clutch and drove away through the back roads to where the village of Angevin lay hidden in the Suffolk folds.
She avoided the turning to the single main street of cottages and took, instead, the upper road which wound through the fields to a pair of neglected iron gates which led into a park so thickly wooded with enormous elms as to be completely dark although their leaves were scarcely a green mist amid the massive branches.
The trees grew near to the house, so close in fact that they obscured it from the north side and she had to use the headlights to find the squat Tudor arch which led into the paved yard. As she passed it a yellow-lit doorway suddenly appeared in the shadowy masonry and the angular figure of a woman stood silhouetted within it. She came running out to the car.
'No.' Julia was apologetic. 'It's only me I'm afraid, Mrs. Broome. We got held up and I left him at the station. You knew he was going back to London, didn't you?'
'Yes. Until tonight.'
There was an indescribable note of satisfaction in the brisk voice which startled Julia as well as reassuring her, and the newcomer went on talking. 'He told me all about it on the telephone and what he didn't tell me I was able to put together. There isn't much Mr. Tim hides from me.'
It was a strange greeting, neither hostile nor effusive, but possessive and feminine and tremendously authoritative. Julia was only just sufficiently sophisticated not to be irritated. 'What about the car? I don't think it ought to stand out where it can be seen, do you?'
'No, miss, I certainly don't and I've given my mind to that, all night nearly. I think it should go down to the little piggy brick house. I'll show you where.'
She stepped into the empty seat and pointed to an opening on the farther side of the yard.
As she settled down beside her, Julia noticed that she was trembling with excitement, and her round face turned suddenly towards her showed patchy red and white. Margaret Broome was a woman of perhaps fifty, but her coarse hair was still fair and her light brown eyes were bright and shiny as pebbles in a brook. Her gay green cardigan was buttoned tightly across her chest and she folded her arms against the cold.
'It's all overgrown but if you drive slowly you'll make it.' she hurried on. 'I slipped down last evening to make sure we could get in. It's the old summer-house at the end of the View. We used to call it the piggy house when Tim was a baby, after the little pig's house that was built of brick you know.' She was unselfconscious in her nursery talk, matter of fact rather. 'Nobody goes there now. It's too far for anyone in the house but right in front of the windows, so no one's going to hop in there courting from the village. Here we are. See, I propped the doors open. You drive straight in.'
It was a little ornamental temple with a tessellated floor and pillars, designed perhaps as a music-room in some far off Victorian age of extravagance.
The panelled double doors had lost much of their paint but they were still stout and the car lights revealed the usual summerhouse miscellany piled in spider-infested confusion against the far wall.
'There,' said Nanny Broome, hopping out with the agility of a girl, 'now we'll shut and lock the doors on it and no one will be a penny the wiser. We must hurry though, because it's nearly light Come along, miss, stir your stumps.'
The nursery way of speaking flowed over Julia, amusing and reassuring her without her realizing that she was receiving a treatment whose technique was as ancient as history. She hurried obediently, helped to close the doors and then followed the angular figure round the side of the building to the broad, terraced path which led up the slope to the front of the Keep. As she looked up and saw it for the first time from this vantage-point she paused abruptly, and the older woman who was watching her exploded in a delighted giggle. In the pink light of dawn, with the long shafts of sunrise cutting through the mist towards it, the Keep at Angevin was something to see.
At that moment it was a piece of pure visual romance, inspired and timeless. Much of its triumph lay in the fact that it was an unfinished thing. The original family who had begun to build a palace to outrival Nonesuch had died out before they had put up little more than the gateway, so that the actual structure which had come down to posterity retained the secret magic of a promise rather than the overpowering splendour of a great architectural achievement.
Two slender towers of narrow rose-pink brick, fretted with mullioned windows, were flanked by three-storied wings of the same period, all very carefully restored and remarkably little spoiled by the Victorian architect who had chosen to build the summer-house at this magnificent point of vantage.
'How staggering it looks from here!' Julia was almost laughing. 'When I came to the house-party at Christmas we didn't get as far as this so I never saw it from this angle. I know why Timothy calls it his castle.'
'It is his castle.' Again the satisfied and possessive warning note jarred on the younger woman. 'When he was a tiny boy in the war, he and I used to sneak out here in the very early morning mushrooming, and I used to tell him about the knights riding in the courtyard, jousting and saving ladies and killing dragons and so on. He loved it. All the kids have it now on telly,' she added as an afterthought. 'Do you ever see it? Ivanhoe.'
'That was a bit earlier, I think. You're a few hundred years out. When was this building begun? Henry the Eighth's reign I suppose?'
'Henry the Eighth! He was nobody to tell a child about!' Mrs. Broome appeared to be annoyed by a fancied criticism. She strode up the path, the patches on her round face brighter, and her eyes as hard and obstinate as stone. 'I'm afraid I wanted my young Mr. Timmy to grow up to be a chivalrous gentleman with a proper attitude towards women,' she said acidly. I hope you've discovered that he has one, miss?'
She turned her head as she spoke and made it a direct question. Julia regarded her blankly. 'I love him very much,' she said stiffly.
'Well, I thought you did, miss, or you'd hardly be here now would you?' The country voice was ruthless. 'What I was meaning to say was I hope you've always found him what you'd wish, you having been brought up as I hope you have?'
It only dawned upon Julia very slowly that she was being asked outright whether or no she was a virgin, and her youthful poise wilted under the unexpected probe. The colour rose up her throat and poured over her face, making the very roots of her hair tingle.
'I ...' she was beginning but once again Nanny Broome had the advantage. Reassured on a point which had clearly been exercising her, she became kindness itself and almost more devastating.
'I see you have,' she said, patting the visitor's arm. 'Of course young people are the same in every generation. There's always the 'do's' and the 'don'ts' and it's only a fashion which seems to put one or the other lot in the front rank for the time being.' And, as if to emphasize her wholehearted co-operation in an enterprise of which she had once been doubtful, she seized the girl's little suitcase and hurried on with it, still talking. 'Sometimes children get funny ideas, but I brought up Mr. Timmy myself, and I didn't think the schools could have done him much harm after that. It's a scientific fact, isn't it, that if you have a child until he's six it doesn't matter who has him afterwards.' Again she gave the little laugh that would have been arch had it not been for the alarming quality of complete faith which pervaded it.
The girl glanced at her sharply under her lashes, and the blurred youthfulness of her face stiffened a little.
'I hope you won't mind me calling you Nanny Broome but that's how I think of you. I've heard it so often from Timothy,' she began, taking the initiative. 'Did you look after him from the time he was born?'
'Very nearly. He was just over the two days, I suppose, and the ugliest little monkey you ever saw. Great big mouth and ears and his eyes all squitted up like a changeling in the fairy tales.' She laughed delightedly and her face became radiant and naïve. 'I've looked forward to saying that to the girl he was going to marry for over twenty-one years.'
Julia's intelligent mouth twitched despite herself. 'And is it true?' she ventured. 'I mean, was he really? Or can't you remember now?'
The elder woman blinked like a child caught out romancing. It was a completely sincere reaction and utterly disarming. 'Well, I remember he was very sweet,' she said, thoughtfully. 'I loved every little tiny scrap of him, that's all I know. He was my baby. I'd lost my own, you see, and he crept right into my heart.' She used the cliché as if she had coined it, and the essential side of her nature, which was warm, unselfish and mindless as a flower bud, opened before the girl. 'You see I'd been a nurse in the Paget family over at St. Bede's and I was just on thirty when I met Mr. Broome, who was the head gardener, caretaker and everything else here. He was a widower with five lovely grownup children and when he asked me I couldn't resist them and all this lovely place to bring them to. So I married him, and my own little boy was on the way when there was all that business before the war – Munich time. The doctors had me in hospital at Ipswich but it was no good. Baby didn't live and I came back knowing I wouldn't have another. So when I was given Timmy to look after you can guess, I expect, young though you are, how I felt. And hasn't he grown up a darling? And now you've come to take him away.' The final phrase was spoken solely for effect and its falseness did not convince even Mrs. Broome herself, apparently, for she laughed at it even while she uttered it and there was no trace of resentment in tone or smile. 'You'll never take him right away,' she added with a grin of pure feminine satisfaction. 'He'll always be my little Prince Tim of the Rose-red Castle in one little corner of his heart. You can see that's true because where did he bring you? He brought you to me to hide you. Now you come along and I'll give you a cup of tea.'
They had reached the last terrace as she finished speaking and only a lawn separated them from the tall graceful façade, whose blank windows looked out sightlessly to the estuary two miles away.
'It's all locked up except for my little door.' She took her visitor's elbow and guided her over the damp grass to the narrow entrance from which she had first appeared.
Excerpted from "The China Governess"
Copyright © 1962 Margery Allingham.
Excerpted by permission of Ipso Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword: The Turk Street Mile,
1 The Elopers,
2 Dangerous Lady,
3 Miss Thyrza's Chair,
4 'Above at a Window',
5 Off the Record,
6 Justifiably Angry Young Man,
7 Ebbfield Interlude,
8 The Well House,
9 The Stranger,
10 Conference in the Morning,
11 The Councillor,
12 The Cobbler's Shop,
13 'The Top of the Police',
14 Kitchen Business,
15 The Beanspiller,
17 The Boy in the Corner,
19 Meeting Point,
20 Eye Witness,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A late Campion, with some similarities to but not as good as the brilliant "Tiger in the Smoke". Sometimes I find Allingham's writing rather opaque, as she lets characters express their emotions in a very oblique way and I'm not always sure I understand her meaning... however the story and characters held my interest. Don't start with this one, again it's one for the fans...
Sadly, this is one of the last books of the Campion series; I'm going to really miss these books when I've finished. Sigh. Oh well, I suppose that's why I keep these things forever so that someday I can go back and reread them. In the prologue, a council flat is vandalized to such an extent that it gives one of its occupants a fatal stroke upon her discovery of the damage. Then on to the main part of the novel: Timothy Kinnit and Julia Laurell are a young couple engaged to be married. Both are from upper class families, and are happy as can be. However, Julia's father decides that the marriage will not happen, due to rumors that are being passed along about Tim's parentage. Although Julia does not care, Tim is determined to seek the truth about his identity, but as he investigates he runs up against several obstacles -- and needs the help of Albert Campion.Once again we find Campion in the background, not as active as in the earlier part of the series -- here lending his cool-headedness and deductive prowess. However, the story was quite good, but then at the end I got a bit confused and had to backtrack to figure out what it was I missed. I love these books, but sometimes they can get bogged down with dialogue that detracts from the main part of the story.I'd recommend it to classic mystery fans, those who like British mysteries and those who are considering the series. However, to the latter I say do NOT start with this one, but go back and start with the first one so you can watch the development of Campion's character. Personally, I liked him better in the older books.Overall ... not one of her best, but okay.
Young Timothy Kinnet is all set to marry the girl of his dreams, when he finds out that he's not who he thought he was. He had always believed that he was an illegitimate relation of the Kinnets, taken in when the Blitz destroyed east London. But he finds out that he was in fact, a foundling. So he sets off to uncover his true identity.But Allingham's books are never that simple. When Timothy becomes the chief suspect in a housebreaking and later a suspicious death, his fiance enlists the help of Albert Campion. This is Allingham at her best. Nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems, but the gang is all here--Lugg, Charlie Luke,--only Amanda is missing. But the story goes at a fast pace and is a pleasure to read.
Margery Allingham, sweeps you into a Mystery-complex and intricate from the very first page. Her writing is as excellent as any of the great English Mystery Writers from the Golden Age of Mystery. The Characters are likeable and eccentric, much like a favorite Professor, you might have had. The Scenery is descriptive with roads and places, that were bombed during World War II. The Turk Street Mile, with all the deceptiveness and squalor it was capable of, laid the foundation for a first class mystery. Superintendent Charles Luke is called in to visit a middle age Couple, whose apartment has been torn apart. On the mirror in the guest room are the words, "Go home Dick." It resulted in the death of one of the first class tenants as they are named by Luke. Councilman Cornish is outraged and demands that Scotland Yard do something. Timothy Kinnit has taken his fiance, Julia, to his old Nanny, Mrs. Broome. She hides the eighteen year old in The Treasure Room of the ancient building, when they have unexpected guests. While Julia is hiding behind curtains leading to a stairway- she hears a conversation that shocks her. Her engagement is put on hold until Tim can find out the truth.She appeals to Albert Campion to help her. The truth... which ever way it falls, does not matter to her, but it does strongly to her Father and her intended. The complexity of the plots that Margery Allingham wrote were a thing of beauty. Her descriptions shimmer with 1940's language, and places. Often, the people are built around the class system of England before and after World War II. But the characters have charm, with their intellectual naivete and good humor. Mrs. Broome quickly became a favorite. If you enjoy Dorothy L. Sayers you will certainly like Allingham who was just as good a writer. Although we have many good Authors today I still favor the Era of the 1930's to 1940's for quality mysteries.