Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham is one of the “Queens of Crime” from the Golden Age of classic murder mystery novels, accompanied by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. This Golden Age is generally placed during the 1920s and 1930s. These ladies created enduring characters and elevated mysteries to literature.

Look to the Lady was first published January 1931, in the United Kingdom and in the United States as The Gyrth Chalice Mystery. It is the third novel in the series featuring Albert Campion and his butler/valet/bodyguard Magersfontein Lugg.

This is the first Campion book I have read. It is very humor – if you like your humor dry and British. Campion and Lugg reminded me not only of Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but also of Jeeves and Wooster. It was a fun read, light on the carnage and heavy on the mirth. I haven’t run out to get more Campion books – I already have a stupefying pile of books to read – but I wouldn’t say no to another one.

Val Gyrth, heir to the Gyrth family, is homeless and wandering the streets. After a mysterious chain of events, he is rescued by Albert Campion. A conspiracy of art collectors and criminals hopes to steal the treasure Van Gyrth’s family is charged with protecting, and Campion has been charged with preventing this theft and discovering the mastermind behind the enterprise.

The solution involves gypsies, the supernatural, family secrets, royalty, forgers, murders, and a secret room. In between, Campion demonstrates a dry sense of humor, a penchant for aliases, a taste for the best in life, and a talent for solving mysteries.

Allingham supposedly created the character as a parody of Sayers’ detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Campion appeared in 19 novels and over 20 short stories.

Albert Campion is his pseudonym. We know that he was born in 1900 into a prominent aristocratic family. He was educated at Rugby and the (fictitious) St. Ignatius’ College, Cambridge. Ingenious, resourceful and well-educated, in his 20s he assumed the name Campion and began a life as an adventurer and detective.

Campion is thin, blond, wears horn-rimmed glasses, and is often described as affable, inoffensive and bland, with a deceptively blank and unintelligent expression. He is, nonetheless, a man of authority and action. In some stories, he lives in a flat above a police station at Number 17A, Bottle Street in Piccadilly, London.

In 1989, Look to the Lady was adapted, following the original closely, for television by the BBC and starred Peter Davison (Dr. Who) as Campion and Gordon Jackson (Mr. Hudson in Upstairs, Downstairs) as Professor Cairey. The Campion books became a series of eight programs. The series was later shown in the US by PBS.

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