Some of the most memorable characters in mystery fiction may be found in the marvelous novels of Margery Allingham, the creator of Albert Campion. In most of Allingham's books, the interesting characters are not limited to Campion and the regulars who surround him - people like his valet/factotum, Magersfontein Lugg, or Stanislaus Oates and Charlie Luke, his police regulars. It is the occasional characters in each of the novels who breathe life into what can be pretty far-fetched stories, making them more credible and much more human to us.
Certainly, that's the case in "More Work for the Undertaker," the subject of this week's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, which you may listen to here. Albert Campion finds himself drawn into a most interesting case, at the center of which is one of those very eccentric English family, the Palinodes. The now-elderly offspring of a professor and his poetess wife, the Palinodes have come down in the world, living now as boarders in what used to be their own home on a small London byway called Apron Street. When a couple of them die mysteriously, the police think they may be killing each other. Campion isn't so sure.
The Palinodes are wonderful characters - but they're not the whole story here. There's an undertaker, with the unfortunate name of Jas. Bowels, and his son, Rowley, who are mixed up in...well, something that seems to be quite secretive and probably illegal. There's a doctor and a druggist and a bank manager, all of whom seem quite nervous for unexplained reasons. There's the woman who now owns the Palinodes' house, a former vaudeville performer and a friend of Campion's.
And there are the gangs of London, who seem to have acquired a fear of something undefined, expressed as a warning or desire not to "go up Apron Street." Not to mention a most peculiar casket which makes unexpected appearances and disappearances.
The book is well plotted and beautifully written, with some lovely unexpected twists and a fair helping of good humor. First published in 1949, I offer it as another entry in the Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge for books published prior to 1960, now under way at the My Reader's Block book blog. "More Work for the Undertaker" is back in print, thanks to the Felony & Mayhem publishers, and it really should not be missed.