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The Fear Sign    by Margery Allingham order for
Fear Sign
by Margery Allingham
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2000 (1933)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Margery Allingham wrote a large number of mysteries, many featuring Albert Campion, a 'Universal Uncle and Deputy Adventurer' as he grandiloquently terms himself. He is the younger son of a family so highly placed that he had to pick a new name when he took up the sordid trade of private investigator.

The Fear Sign is one of the more lighthearted Campion novels, and is particularly noteworthy since it introduces Amanda Fitton, his future (after many vicissitudes) wife. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Amanda's brother, Hal, who shares with Amanda and their elder sister Mary the flaming red hair which plays a part in solving the mystery. This involves a riddle whose solution may make Hal the Earl of Pontisbright and the heriditary ruler of a Ruritanian kingdom with an untapped oilfield and a natural harbour on the Adriatic Sea; hence the efforts of the villain to thwart Campion.

Confusing the issue is a curse on the village, a corpse laid out on the Common, and a mysterious doctor who may know more than he is telling. Campion's manservant, the uncouth and argumentative ex-burglar Lugg, is involved as usual, as are three of Campion's friends from a higher class of society. Although not to be taken seriously, this 1933 novel is in its way a historical document, illustrating very clearly, if unconsciously, the class distinctions in English society at that time. There is a vast gulf between Campion, Amanda and their friends and the villagers and other characters.

Allingham's mysteries are noteworthy for the many and varied eccentrics who crowd her pages; if we do not quite believe in them, she makes us wish we did. Her best novel, Tiger in the Smoke, evokes a post-war London so real that to read it is to live it, but any of her books is worth reading.

Note: The Fear Sign was originally published as Sweet Danger.

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