When entertainer Jimmy Sutane falls victim to a string of malicious practical jokes, there’s only one man who can get to the bottom of the apparent vendetta against the music hall darling—gentleman sleuth Albert Campion. Soon, however, the backstage pranks escalate, and an aging starlet is killed. Under pressure to uncover the culprit and plagued by his growing feelings for Sutane’s wife, Campion finds himself uncomfortably embroiled in an investigation which tests his ingenuity—and integrity—to the limit.
“Allingham’s work is always of the first rank.” —The New York 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
When Mr William Faraday sat down to write his memoirs after fifty-eight years of blameless inactivity he found the work of inscribing the history of his life almost as tedious as living it had been and so, possessing a natural invention coupled with a gift for locating the easier path, he began to prevaricate a little upon the second page, working up to downright lying on the sixth and subsequent folios.
The book appeared at eighteen-and-sixpence, with frontispiece, in nineteen thirty-four and would have passed into the limbo of the remainder lists with thousands of its prototypes had not the quality of one of the wilder anecdotes in the chapters dealing with an India the author had never seen earned it a place in the news columns of a Sunday paper.
This paragraph called the memoirs to the attention of a critic who had not permitted his eminence to impair his appreciation of the absurd, and in the review which he afterwards wrote he pointed out that the work was pure fiction, not to say fantasy, and was incidentally one of the funniest books of the decade.
The public agreed with the critic and at the age of sixty-one William Faraday, author of Memoirs of an Old Buffer (republished at seven-and-six, seventy-fourth thousand), found himself a literary figure.
He almost succeeded in looking the part as he sat in his box at the Argosy Theatre, his small bright eyes fixed upon the stage where the three hundredth performance of The Buffer, the musical show which had been built on some of the bones of his book, was taking place.
Having seen the show some thirty or forty times his view naturally tended towards the critical, but he enjoyed it nevertheless.
The rest of the audience was not so surfeited. It exulted, hugged itself and, in the cheaper parts of the house, became a little hysterical.
Even the consciously intelligent element was happy, enjoying a rare burst of spiritual freedom. A Jimmy Sutane–Slippers Bellew show was a recognized intellectual leveller and provided one of those blessed Alsatias wherein the eyes of the moron and the highbrow meet and wink. There were Sutane fans in stalls and gallery; childlike spirits, hid in most unexpected bosoms, followed his angular ecstatic figure in its graceful yet faintly grotesque interpretation of Mercer's music with all the heartrending pleasure of imprisoned birds observing flight.
It was an occasion, a night to be remembered and recalled with embellishments. A party spirit enveloped the old Argosy and even the florid goddesses above the candelabra in the auditorium seemed to infuse a new enthusiasm into their painted sports.
The various managerial staffs, gay if exhausted, wrestled twice as vigorously as was strictly necessary with the telegrams, the insufferable idiots expecting seats before Christmas, the flowers in ice from Australia and the expensive and importunate Atlantic phone calls.
The programme girls in their fresh uniforms glanced at the stage with new interest even when Sutane was not upon it, while the orchestra, basking in an unfamiliar sense of security, became almost elated in spite of the new number in the second act.
That disturbing emotional experience, the first night, was a thing of the past. That had been a nightmare with a happy awakening. This, the three hundredth performance, had the pleasant quality of reality about it. The 'House Full' boards appeared to be a permanency outside the doorways in Shaftesbury Avenue and the library order was no longer a matter for prayer.
Mr Faraday leant forward. His small bear's body in its black and white elegance swayed to the foxtrot rhythm of the première hit of the show. The amusing backcloth of grotesque faces which Pavalini had designed hung across the back of the stage, and habitués in the audience nudged their companions, whispering to them to notice the villainous caricature of the Doremus woman on the croupier's extreme right.
As the light increased the chorus boys appeared in their twenty-, fifty- and hundred-franc plaque costumes. They came trotting on, more and more and more of them, drilled to automaton perfection, bobbing and clattering in carefully contrived disorder until the suggestion of a shower of counters on a boule table was complete.
The giant roulette wheel in the middle of the stage began to glow, the music softened, and the applause drowned the cue, as it always did, when the audience saw the familiar figure in the suit of white tails leaning on the silver turn-table. Then came the cue again and the small, charming voice, which knew all there was to know about putting a song over and little enough about singing, pattered neatly through the first chorus.
What's the odds I'm on your number?
The face was a blur to eighty per cent of those in the theatre, a little white speck in a paper storm of subdued colours, but everybody knew the high forehead, the round mournful eyes, the long duck's-bill nose and the mouth which widened so amusingly into a sophisticated smile.
As the chorus was taken up by the others the wheel began to turn and the tap-dance, which had made stage gossip and was likely to make stage history, began for the three-hundredth time. The small white figure with the amazing feet ricochetted and pirouetted round the wooden slats, tapping out its own music with a quality in which mere accuracy merged into the miraculous. Faster, faster and faster! A thousand – a million to one ... a thousand – a million to one....
The crisis came in a breathless moment. The audience swayed, satiated and exquisitely at peace. The wheel began to slow down, the beat of the pattering feet became sparse, and the tune slurred agonizingly an octave lower. The chorus took up the song again, the lights turned the wheel into a vast zero, and applause, like the sound of wind passing through a cornfield magnified to terrifying proportions, swept down upon the white figure grinning in its midst.
William Faraday turned to the man who sat beside him.
'It's a damned shame, Campion,' he murmured, the words rumbling between his lips. 'Something's got to be done, my boy. See that with half an eye. Means so much, you know.'
Mr Campion nodded. The roar from the great pleased animal whose vastness filled the theatre, and of which he was so alarmingly a part, made conversation impossible. He sat leaning back in the shadows, the light from the stage catching his horn-rimmed spectacles and the unexpectedly strong line of his chin.
He was not a handsome man. There was a certain vacuity in his expression which counteracted the pleasant angles of his face and lent his whole appearance an indefinable quality, so that those who knew him were apt to find him hard to recollect and impossible to describe.
At the moment Mr Faraday, who knew him well and had excellent personal reasons for believing in his resource, wondered if he had heard and, if so, had understood him.
'More trouble here, shouldn't wonder,' he muttered a few minutes later as the curtain rose on the old-time music-hall scene and the music for the extra number inserted into the show in honour of the occasion began its lazy, insinuating measure. 'Don't understand why they want more dancing. Theatrical people beyond me – always were. Never liked this gel in the old days. Too damned highbrow by half. Must be an oldish woman by this time.'
He turned in his chair, the shortness of his neck making a rather complete movement necessary.
'Naturally.' Mr Campion seemed startled.
His host grunted. 'Here she comes. Could tell you something about her.'
The art of Chloe Pye belonged to an earlier age than the inspired patterings of Jimmy Sutane, and Mr Campion himself wondered why, on her return from a long colonial tour, she should have elected, much less been invited, to attempt a come-back in the midst of such strong competition. He had been a schoolboy when he had first seen her taking up a quarter of the bill at one of the better music-halls, her rathermediocre talent helped out by a personality so feminine that her gentle seductiveness reached out well over the footlights. Her act had always been the same, a series of little dances each telling a story, each delivered in varying period costume, parts of which were discarded as the performance continued. The mild indelicacies involved were invariably excused by the dictates of the tale. Thus a vision of Chloe in Stuart underwear was archly exhibited under the title 'Nell Gwynne Prepares for Court,' and Victorian petticoats and the pantalette in entirety were displayed with equal timid vulgarity in 'Morning, 1832'.
Her success in the days after the war when modern underclothes had reached an uninteresting minimum was considerable and her turn had borrowed an added glamour by the gossip which surrounded her private life.
In those days promiscuity had still the remnants of novelty and her affairs were eagerly discussed, but to-day, when the weary business of polyandry was arriving at the end of its melancholy culde-sac, her reputation, when it was remembered at all, detracted from rather than enhanced her appeal.
So, too, the return of underclothes in shop windows and on the familiar bodies of wives and sisters destroyed the attraction of the original idea, and to-night there was no murmur of tolerant protest as petticoat after petticoat dropped to the ground.
'Highbrow?' murmured Mr Campion, harking back to his host's earlier criticism.
'Historical,' explained Mr Faraday briefly. 'Don't see why he put her in. Nothin' to do with the book. They tell me she used to draw. Won't sell a seat now.'
Looking at her, Campion was inclined to agree with him. The audience, thoroughly warmed and friendly, was kind, but it was obvious that its mood was anticipatory and it only awaited the return of Sutane and Slippers in their Round the World in a Four-in-Hand number, to the tune which Mercer had written one afternoon while Jimmy talked to him and which was now all over two continents.
'Don't like the woman,' Mr Faraday murmured. 'Might have thought she was at the bottom of it if she hadn't only just come back to England. Look at her – fifty if a day.'
With his eyes on the dark vivacious figure on the stage Campion reflected that he was wrong. Chloe Pye was forty-two and in excellent physical trim. It was her mind, not her body, that was so hopelessly vieux jeu.
His companion touched his arm.
'Come behind,' he whispered gustily. 'Can't stand this. Shouldn't say so, of course. Want your help, my boy. Relyin' on you. Come along.'
The Argosy was an old theatre and true to its type its backstage accommodation had never received any serious thought. Campion edged through a door which inconvenienced him in height almost as much as it incommoded Mr Faraday in width, risked his neck by climbing down an iron staircase with a wobble, and came out into a corridor which looked and smelled like one of the less frequently used passages in a riverside tube station.
Mr Faraday glanced over his shoulder, his eyes brightening.
'Used to come here to see Connie. Before your time,' he murmured. 'Pretty little woman. Must be old now.' He sighed and added with a shy confiding which was almost the whole of his charm,' Still gives me a thrill, you know, this sort of thing. Vie de bohème, lights, far-off music, smell of the grease-paint, women and so on.'
Fortunately Mr Campion, who was somewhat at a loss, was spared the necessity of comment. One of the doors a little higher up the corridor burst open and a golden-haired young man in exquisite evening clothes appeared wheeling a silver-plated racing bicycle. He was very angry and the expression upon his face, which was a little too beautiful to be altogether pleasant, was sulky and absurd.
'It's all very well for you to behave revoltingly, Richards, but I can bring my bicycle where I like,' he said over his shoulder. 'You know it as well as anybody.'
'I'm sorry, Mr Konrad. 'A harassed uniformed man with weary eyes and an untidy moustache came out of the door. 'Mr Webb told me himself to see nothing of the sort come into the theatre. There's not enough room for the artists, let alone you bringing in bicycles.'
'But Miss Bellew brings in her Great Dane.' The young man gripped his machine with something approaching ferocity, but the doorkeeper spoke with the obstinacy of old authority.
'Miss Bellew is a principal,' he said heavily.
The boy with the bicycle stiffened as the colour rose slowly over his face into the roots of his curling golden hair. For an embarrassing moment it seemed as if he were about to cry.
'This bicycle was presented to me by my admirers,' he said. 'Why should I let pure jealousy on the part of some people –' he shot a waspish glance back through the doorways, presumably at some third person within, '– prevent me from showing it to anyone I like? You're making a fool of yourself. I shall certainly speak to Jimmy himself about it. Why don't you keep your eye on the important things that keep happening?'
There was defiance in the last words, as though the speaker deliberately touched on a tabooed subject. A spot of colour appeared in the doorkeeper's grey cheeks and he glanced behind him. Seeing Campion, he started forward angrily, only to fall back reassured at the sight of Mr Faraday, to whom he nodded. Shaken but still obdurate, he returned to the job in hand.
'Now, Mr Konrad,' he began, laying a heavy hand on the glittering machine, 'we'll have this outside, if you please.'
The boy with the golden hair relinquished it to him with a contemptuous shrug of his graceful shoulders.
'Oh, it's Uncle William,' he said. 'Do look here and see what the Speedo Club has insisted on sending me. Isn't it too absurd?'
Mr Faraday coughed noisily. 'Magnificent,' he said fiercely and, gripping Campion's arm, he propelled him firmly down the corridor. 'I hate those fellers,' he muttered in an all too audible undertone. 'Called me Uncle William – did you hear him? – impudent little tick! Don't mind it from my friends – rather like it Used to it. Notice you've dropped it. Don't hesitate, my dear feller. But a worm like that ... turns my stomach over, don't mind tellin' you. Golden curls ...! Come on, we'll slip into the wings. Know my way about by this time. Want you to see Slippers. Nice girl. No damned nonsense about her. No sex appeal off, though,' he added regretfully and coughed again, as if he feared he had betrayed himself.
The Round the World in a Four-in-Hand number was at its height as they approached. Over Mr Faraday's shoulder Campion caught a glimpse of the two figures, so familiar to the fashionable audiences of both continents. Slippers Bellew was a pale gold flame flickering over a twilit stage, while beside her moved Sutane, faithful as a shadow, and contriving by his very sympathy of movement to convey the mute adoration which the song demanded of him and which was so great a part of his appeal.
The roar of the audience at the end was tremendous. The harsh sound swept in on them like a great hot breath, and they stepped back through the crowd of girls and small-part folk coming down for the Little White Petticoats finale.
The excitement which is never wholly absent from the theatre, even on the three hundredth night, forced itself upon Campion and he, too, was aware of the power of the Sutane personality which dominated the house, both before and behind the curtain. He tried to analyse it as he followed Uncle William to the dressing-room. There was grace and skill personified in the man, but that alone was not sufficient to make so deep an appeal. It was the sophisticated, amused but utterly discontented intelligence which constituted the real attraction, he decided, an ease and dignity which was yet emotionally unsatisfied – the old pull of the hero in love, in fact.
His companion was still talking.
'Wait for him in here,' he remarked, tapping at a door with a One on it. 'Wants to see you. Promised I'd bring you along.'
They were admitted to a large room, overlit to the point of discomfort, by a stolid young man in a white coat and spectacles with very thick pebbles.
'Come in, sir. Glad to see you,' he said, conducting the elder man to an arm-chair beside the dressing-table.
Uncle William grunted gratefully and sat down.
'This is Henry, Campion,' he said with a wave of a pudgy hand. 'Good feller, Henry.'
Excerpted from "Dancers In Mourning"
Copyright © 1937 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Campion is asked by an old acquaintance (from Police at the Funeral) to find out who's at the bottom of a series of nasty practical jokes aimed at the principal figure in a London theatrical production. Just as he begins his inquiry, a woman is murdered and things take a darker turn. Campion soon finds himself taking a very personal interest in the case, which might just cloud his judgement.I really love Campion. Not crazy about the lurid cover on my copy, but there you are!
Song and dance man Jimmy Sutane should have no enemies. Popular and successful, he inspires affection rather than dislike. Except that there is someone out there who doesn't agree. Nasty little tricks are plaguing Sutane - a pin in a stick of greasepaint, a boquet of wild garlic tossed onto the stage. The petty incidents are getting him down, driving him into a state of nervousness that is starting to affect both his work and private life. Sutane's latest hit is based on the (invented) memoirs of Uncle William Farraday (from Police at the Funeral) and it is Uncle William who calls in Mr Campion. Complications abound for Campion as the campaign of petty tricks escalates, one of Sutane's house-guests and co-stars dies in strange circumstances and Campion finds himself losing his usual objectivity as he falls in love with Sutane's wife. I'll admit straight up that I was disappointed with this book (as my rating probably shows). It started off well, but I felt it got mired in its own cleverness. Campion shifted in and out of character, which I guess was part of the point, but it just didn't work for me. We spent the whole book following what in the end proved to be a major red herring and that really annoyed me. It was a pleasure to see Uncle William again, but when he's the best thing in the book and he's still a silly old buffer, it's a fiar indication this isn't the best of the Campion books. Read it for completeness as I did, but I don't personally think it'll be a regular reread.