The Tiger In The Smoke (Vintage Heroes & Villians) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 226 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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I think of Allingham books as skillful constructions--she is as much an architect as a writer. Clearly, the structure is in place, and she introduces us to it in her own characteristic fashion: word by word, phrase by phrase as she builds her edifice before our wondering eyes.. We meet memorable characters masterfully sketched in indelible lines with a few sentences. We encounter exquisite descriptive passages that are poetic in their deliberate beauty.
Along with the breathtaking beauty of the words, we meet a tale of great and overarching evil met by goodness, even Godliness, of equal measure. The London fog (the "smoke") is an important character--the swirling grey mists permeate nearly every scene. The villain of the piece--the “Tiger”-- is a man whose worst qualities are only too apparent to Oates, although Luke, the lead investigator of the piece, does not fully appreciate what his superior officer is telling him about the character known as “Havoc.” But Campion knows.
It seems to me that Allingham has exceeded her own high level of achievement in this tale. Here is dramatically portrayed an epic battle between the forces of good and evil--magnificent, spell-binding, and relentless. The “evil” here is the character known as Havoc, while the “good” is the Canon Avril. The story comes full circle in the climactic scene between Havoc and Avril, and ultimately resolves in an extraordinary way. It is a terrible, but ultimately satisfying, story.
Albert Campion, who is Allingham's series detective is less visible in this book than he is Allingham's other books, but he is present, along with a number of other familiar characters.
For some reason, I’d gotten away from the Golden Age and lately have been reading Victorian and modern mysteries. But “Tiger” is one of the books on HRF Keating’s list of 100 best mysteries that I hadn’t read so when a friend pointed out this kindle book for $2.99 I picked it up. A few pages into “The Tiger in the Smoke”, I remembered why Golden Age was my genre of preference. Most of what I’ve read over the past couple of years pales in comparison.
First of all the “cozy mystery thriller” label on this is completely misleading. Undoubtedly, some Golden Age mysteries, especially some from Christie and Heyer, qualify as cozies but “Tiger” is very atmospheric with tension that can be oppressive at times. It also had more (off stage) violence and threat of violence than is common in a “cozy”. Like most Golden Age mysteries it is filled with interesting, quirky characters and a bizarre seemingly senseless little puzzle that is actually complex and gradually revealed. If anything it reminded much more of John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson than a cozy. Like Carr, this story does not focus on Campion (in fact he is not the driving force in the story) but is told from the varying perspectives of different characters.
Allingham does create some very ornate prose which some modern readers may not enjoy. It wasn’t constant but it was noticeable. An example: “Some resourceful policeman had unearthed one of the old naphtha flares which are the only real answer to fog. Like a livid plume, it spat and hissed above the heads of a knot of men in the chasm, its vigorous smoke trail mingling with the other vapours, making Rembrandtesque clouds above them.”
“The Tiger in the Smoke” is a nice Golden Age mystery that I enjoyed a lot. I’m looking forward to another Allingham on Keating’s list “More Work for the Undertaker”.