Is Mike Ripley in danger
of becoming something of a crime-writing National Treasure? His entry in the
2009 British Crime Writing Encyclopedia certainly hinted at the prospect and his
latest project might just seal the deal as he revives the career of one of the
most-loved characters from the ‘Golden Age’ of English crime fiction, Albert
Campion, with his completion of a novel started almost 45 years ago.
Best known for his
award-winning ‘Angel’ series of comic thrillers, Ripley reviewed almost 1,000
crime novels in a twenty year span as a critic for the Sundayand Daily Telegraphs and the Birmingham Post, as well as contributing to The Times, the Guardian and numerous magazines. He now writes Shots’ monthly Getting Away
With Murder column as ‘The Ripster’ from
the comfort of his East Anglian estate Ripster Hall, which mysteriously does
not appear on Google Earth….
For the uninitiated, would you explain who Albert Campion was – or should that
Mike Ripley: The
one thing we know is that Albert Campion isn’t his real name! He was created by
Margery Allingham and made his first appearance in her fiction in 1929 and she
hinted at royal connections, though her only admission was that, enigmatically,
his real name was ‘Rudolph K –’ but in his private life, he is always known as
Albert Campion. He was an ‘adventurer’ rather than a private detective and one
of great gentleman amateur sleuths of the1930s, always ranked alongside Hercule
Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. What made Campion stand out for me was that
Margery Allingham allowed him to mature and age over the years, whereas Dorothy
Sayers abandoned her hero to a happy marriage in 1937 and Agatha Christie’s
Poirot was, in effect, timeless. By the time I take up Campion’s story, he’s
well into his sixties and seriously considering retirement, or at least taking
are we going back into the ‘Golden Age’ of English crime writing?
fictional heritage is certainly ‘Golden Age’ but Margery Allingham was still
writing about him when she died in 1966. It was Margery’s husband, Pip Youngman
Carter, who completed her unfinished novel Cargo
of Eagles, which was published posthumously in 1968. Youngman Carter, who
had collaborated with his wife on the earlier Campion stories as well as
designing many of her book jackets (he was an artist and journalist) , then
continued the series with two more novels – Mr
Campion’s Farthing and Mr Campion’s
Falcon – and had started a third when he died in late 1969. He left only a
fragment of the novel, about four chapters, and no plan or synopsis. It is that
Youngman Carter fragment which I have completed as Mr Campion’s Farewell.
did you discover this missing fragment?
didn’t. All Youngman Carter’s papers were left to Margery’s sister Joyce
Allingham and on her death in 2001 they passed to the Margery Allingham
Society, whose members had been discussing it and wondering what to do with it
for several years. It was only when I was invited to speak at the Society’s
convention in 2010 that I heard about the story – or the start of a story –
which the Society had called ‘Mr Campion’s Swansong’ as the piece didn’t
actually have a title. In 2012 the Society bravely – some might say foolishly –
took up my offer to complete the novel and after a gap of 44 years it is
DT: SoMr Campion’s Farewell finally
appears. Is it really farewell to the hero?
no, it’s a farewell not a funeral. The genius of Margery Allingham was to have
her hero age and mature more or less as she did. He started off as almost an
upper-class twit, clearly inspired by Bertie Wooster, but quickly showed
intelligence, then growing maturity as the years passed. By the time Youngman
Carter took up the series, Campion was a much different character to the ‘silly
ass’ figure who stumbled in to Allingham’s classic country-house mystery The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929. I’ve
kept the time frame as contemporary to when Youngman Carter was writing, so the
book is set in 1969 and Campion is well into his sixties; still fit and active,
but perhaps thinking of taking it easy.
you departed from the Allingham series’ story arc on this?
I’m not too sure what you mean by ‘story arc’, I don’t think so. I feel there
were indications in Margery’s novel The
Mind Readers in 1963 that Campion was ‘getting too old for all this
excitement’ and there’s a graphic and quite brilliant scene in that novel where
Campion gets beaten up by a much younger man. Had Margery lived I think she would have had Campion as much more of a
‘wise old owl’ than an action hero and possibly introduced the Campions’ son
Rupert as a suitable character to carry on the family business of
‘adventuring.’ In fact it fell to Youngman Carter, after Margery’s death, to
give Rupert a solid supporting role and even a love interest, in Mr Campion’s Farthing. I have boosted
the role of son Rupert (and daughter-in-law as she is now Perdita) in my novel
as they are ideal characters to do the leg work while Albert works everything
that indicated in the fragment of Youngman Carter’s manuscript you took over?
The characters of Rupert Campion and Perdita Browning were established by him
in his first solo Campion novel and I have re-used them in my continuation. In
fact, Youngman Carter left absolutely nothing – either in the text or in his
notes – to indicate which way the plot would pan out.
that deter you?
because I took it as an opportunity, a challenge if you like, to make the most
of what he had left, which was a set-up based on a specific place.
This would be the village of Lindsay Carfax, right?
He described, or hinted at, shady goings on in a historic Suffolk wool town
which struck me as being inspired by the small and very beautiful town of
Lavenham. I may be wrong, but that’s how I read it and as I had recently been
teaching a creative crime writing course there I knew I it well. Once I had the
setting firmly in mind and a central character as good as Albert Campion, the
rest just flowed.
you think Youngman Carter would approve of the end result?
have no idea. I only hope Margery Allingham might have looked on it kindly as I
tried to make it as much fun as possible, and she was a writer who always
showed a great sense of humour.
not go there.
as a writer, I was going to say, is for comedy crime fiction, in fact you’ve
won several awards for comic crime. Do you think dedicated Campion fans might
worry that you are not taking their hero seriously enough?
have to see about that. The thing is, Margery Allingham did put an enormous amount
of fun into her writing and critics
of the Youngman Carter continuations said that much of her humour was what was
missing. I hope I’ve put that back. Early reactions from members of the Margery
Allingham Society have been very encouraging and one die-hard Campion fan wrote
to me more or less urging me to ‘go for it’ because, as she described it,
Margery’s style had always been one of ‘coherent daftness’, which I think is a
brilliant description. I wish I’d thought of it.
much research was involved in writing Mr
Campion’s Farewell and was it difficult to do?
first thing I did was re-read Youngman Carter’s two Campion novels and in 2013
I actually ended up editing new editions of them for Ostara Publishing, getting
them back into print for the first time in 30 years and doing them as eBooks
for the first time. Then Barry Pike of the Allingham Society put me on to some
of the short stories Youngman Carter had written and advised me to consult the
Allingham Archive at the University of Essex. Once I thought I had a grasp of
how he structured his books, my basic research was to go back through the
Allingham canon to refresh my memory of Campion’s family history. That, of
course, was a pleasure not a chore. For my setting and plot, I relied on my
familiarity with Lavenham and Cambridge (where a fair chunk of the action takes
place). That was another case of familiarity because in 1969, I was a teenager
living in Cambridge – and reading Margery Allingham!
you have any other help?
There’s no one else but me to blame for mistakes, if that’s what you mean! I
sent early drafts to novelist Andrew Taylor and to Julia Jones, Margery
Allingham’s biographer, and both were very encouraging. Another Allingham
expert (and Sherlockian), Roger Johnson, was invaluable in correcting points of
Campion lore and also offered to provide a very attractive map of Lindsay
Carfax for the book, working from my rather cack-handed outline sketch. In true
Campion style, he offered to do it ‘for a guinea’ and so when I spoke about the
book at the recent Essex Book Festival, I presented him with a guinea – two ten
shilling notes and two sixpences, which I’d found on eBay. They cost me a damnsight more than £1.05p, but I thought it a gesture Margery would have approved
give the impression that you enjoyed reviving Albert Campion. Do you plan any
was a fascinating project and I was lucky to get a shot at doing it, but I
couldn’t really resist having lived in ‘Allingham country’ for the last
thirty-five years. And yes, I’d certainly like to do more, though perhaps not too many… Not that I’m superstitious,
but Youngman Carter completed one Campion novel, then wrote two more and
started a third – and then died at the age of 65. I’ve now completed one and if
I wrote two more to be published in 2015 and 2016, then it would be 2017 when I
would be starting a third and I will be 65 that year…
Mr Campion’s Farewell is
published by Severn House on 8th April. Support SHOTS and buy it here
Mike Ripley at work in the Allingham Archive at Essex
Youngman Carter and Margery Allingham at their Essex home.
Albert Campion, as sketched by Pip Youngman Carter.