Mr Campion’s Fault – Review
Continuation novels are a tricky business as an author is always likely to run in to an army of purists who will automatically dislike their work as infringing on the body of work of their literary hero. As much as I disapprove of this form of genre small-mindedness it does have a certain logic. I always enjoyed John Gardner’s James Bond novels for instance, although I have to concede they do not remotely touch the work of Ian Fleming.
Mike Ripley’s decision to continue the Albert Campion series more than forty years after Margery Allingham’s death was at the very least a brave one. After all, Allingham was one of the most revered authors of the Golden Age and her aristocratic detective appeared in eighteen of her novels and countless short stories. The series was first revived by Allingham’s widower Philip Youngman Carter and Ripley’s first entry in the series, Mr Campion’s Farewell (2014), was the completion of a Youngman Carter manuscript. This was followed by Mr Campion’s Fox (2015) and now we have Mr Campion’s Fault.
In Mr Campion’s Fault the sudden death of the senior English master, Bertram Brown, of Ash Grange School for Boys brings Mr Campion to the fictional Yorkshire village of Denby Ash where his son Philip is coaching the school rugby team and his daughter-in-law Perdita has been trying to keep the late Brown’s long-planned musical production of Dr Faustus alive. Campion walks into an environment where miners are considered the upper classes, Methodism vies with local folklore about poltergeists as the dominant superstition, and northern bluntness is almost a foreign language to the well-heeled sleuth who begins to suspect that Brown’s death in a car accident may not have been so accidental after all. It’s not just Campion who found the setting alien. Any youngish British reader might believe they are reading about another world at times, but that, for me, was part of the appeal. I was enticed by descriptions of coal-mining in all its beauty and horror:
Mr Campion had gently steered the conversation to include the history and sociology of Denby Ash.
It had been, the headmaster had informed him, a pet theory of the late Bertram Browne that the people of Denby Ash were inextricably linked, economically and philosophically, to the seams of coal which ran under the village. With his background as a Sapper, the late Mr Browne had naturally taken an interest in matters geological and the ‘black gold’ on which the prosperity of the local population depended and whose bounty had been, in a way, responsible for the existence of Ash Grange School. There were those who found it whimsical that the long, subterranean solid rivers of coal were known as ‘Flockton Thick’ and ‘Flockton Thin’. Indeed, certain habitués of the Staff Room, who really should have known better, used the expression to describe formal gatherings of the Mothers’ Union, but not Bertram. He knew that Flockton Thick referred to twin seams each two-feet thick, whilst Flockton Thin was a 15-inch layer of coal of the very highest quality, and neither were laughing matters for down there, six hundred feet underground, the men of Denby Ash (and, a century ago, not a few women and children) had lost their lives harvesting them.
Ripley admits that ‘Yorkshire was certainly not a natural hunting ground for Margery Allingham and taking the Campions there may be a risk’ but he imbues the new setting with both attention to detail and a witty affection culled from his own childhood upbringing in the West Riding. Sprinkled with the biting wit readers of Ripley’s Angel novels and his Getting Away With Murder column have become accustomed to, Mr Campion’s Fault is a welcome addition to the series which has the potential to draw in new readers and win round Allingham purists.