B:May 20, 1904 - London, England - D: June 30, 1966 - Essex, England
Life & Writing
A fourth generation writer, Allingham became a professional writer at the tender age of eight (wow) when she was published by her aunt. She studied drama and speech in school (to help overcome a childhood stutter) but continued to write. While she found artistic fulfillment in her novel writing, early on in her career she still needed to write on spec & commission to earn her daily bread. The main issue here is that these pieces were subjected to editorial scrutiny and change - which is never any fun!
Then she and her readers were introduced to a Mr. Albert Campion in 1929 in The Crime of The Black Dudley - the one and only time Campion was relegated to a minor role. He might have remained there had he not caught Allingham and her editor’s eye and both decided they liked him so much he became her main protagonist! Entertainingly enough, in Campion’s early career is thought to be a tongue-in-cheek homage Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy L. Sayers. Similar to Wimsey, Campion is the younger son of a noble family (though Campion is somewhere in line for the throne) which he is estranged from (due to an aunt’s “corrupting influence”) who finds himself in situations where solving the mystery at hand is important. (Random Fact: it is rumored that Sayers and Allingham lived half mile from each other for a good portion of their adult lives - however they supposedly moved in very different circles and didn’t meet often). However Campion quickly grew out of Wimsey’s shadow and established his own reputation and place in the golden age of mysteries.
With Campion as her break-out character, Allingham was able to focus more on her artistic endeavors, while taking on commissioned pieces only when she wanted. She continued to write up until her death in 1966 from breast cancer.
“There are, fortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.” - Death Of A Ghost
Main Detective: Albert Campion
1st in Series: The Crime At The Black Dudley (1929) Last: Mind Readers (1965)
(There is a bit of grey area here - the above are the 1st and last written by Allingham herself. Her husband completed her book Cargo of Eagles (at her request) which was unfinished at the time of her death. He then went on to write two more books in the series before he passed away in 1969 - leaving his own unfinished Albert Campion novel. It was stuck in a drawer until 2014 when Mike Ripley - who is evidently a huge fan of the series - completed it at the behest of the Allingham Society. His book was so well received that Ripley was allowed to write his own Campion novel, Mr. Campion's Fox slated to be released this June! So the number of novels & where you'd say the series ended is, well, a bit squishy - so I stuck with the books completed by the great lady herself!)
No. of Books In Series: 18 novels & 22 short stories Setting: UK primarily
A Strange Coincidence
A plot spoiler below if you’ve not read Traitor’s Purse.
Did you know that Lord Byron originally coined the phrase, the truth is stranger than fiction? It has been updated over the years to fit our current concept of grammar but Byron’s quote from Don Juan still holds true. I think it is the only way to explain how not one but two mystery authors stumbled onto and unknowingly exposed government secrets - both English & German - in the same year!
In 1941 the world was smack in the middle of WWII and two Queens of Crime penned novels patriotic in theme. Christie wrote N or M which put MI5’s knickers in a twist when she named one of her main characters Major Bletchley. They were afraid she knew something about the code breaking activity at Bletchley Park and was baiting the government about it. As it turns out she spent a frustrating afternoon in the Bletchley train station and took her revenge on it by naming her least likable character after it. Much to the relief of all.
In strange twist, Margery Allingham also exposed a government plot in her 1941 book Traitor’s Purse - only in this case it was a German conspiracy! I kid you not! Campion discovered a plot to distribute counterfeit currency in order to tank the English economy, so that her allies will no long want to do business with her because the currency is worthless thus making it that little bit easier for England to fall to the Germans.
This was the similar line of reasoning used in real life by the Germans when they set up Operation Bernhard, a State sponsored counterfeit ring. They started planning the operation in 1939 but were really in the swing of things by 1942 when they had printed just shy of 9 million notes with a face value of around 135 million pounds in 5, 10, 20 & 50 pound notes. While 9 million is a startling number, the actual number of bills which posed a real threat to the country was much smaller. The Germans had a difficult time in the beginning replicating the paper the currency was printed on (due to wartime shortages), inks and engraving plates (they drew from the concentration camps for their forging labor force, so the learning curve to create convincing counterfeits was steep). But eventually they got things sorted out and were ready to distribute their fakes into England.
There was a fly in the ointment however; the plan which Himmler was rumored to favor, was to have the Luftwaffe drop the notes over major cities in England. The Germans theorized that the Bank of England’s credibility would be completely undermined if they refused to honor currency by claiming that it was counterfeit - since the fakes were what we now call Super Bills - fakes so convincing only banks & experts could suss them out. The problem came when Goering told the Himmler’s SS that the Luftwaffe no longer had enough aircraft to carry out this type of operation, forcing them to shift tactics and supply their agents with the fake money to launder. Which was a lot less efficient method of distribution!
(an example of one of the forged notes.)
There was another problem which the Germans were unaware of.....Allied spies reported the conspiracy in 1939! So the Bank of England took measures to counteract this particular German effort. In 1940, they created a special blue 1 pound note with a metallic thread in it to raising the difficulty level of forging it, thereby discouraging any counterfeiting efforts. By 1943, the Bank Of England had also stopped issuing any bill above a 5 pound note - seriously - plus they slowly removed all of the higher bills out of circulation. Both of these efforts helped to stem the tide of the fake money making its way into economy. Because the government knew of Operation Bernhard, they were able to identify enemy operatives by - you guessed it - their possession of large numbers of these bills! Thus significantly hindering their planned method of dispersal. (The other factor which saved the English economy was the pressure the Allies were putting on the German front - which made them move the operation several times which caused massive disruptions.)
By 1945, Operation Bernhard was abandoned, presses were dismantled and crates of currency destroyed (the laborers from the concentration camps fared better as they revolted and the camp they were being held in was soon liberated!). Well, the equipment was sort of destroyed. It is theorized that the Germans dumped the remaining crates of currency, presses and plates in Lake Toplitz in the Austrian Alps. Divers did recover a bit of money from the lake, but nothing on the scale which Nazi records indicated that they printed. And this is where we see the birth of all kinds of fiction/conspiracy of lost Nazi gold/wealth. Because it is extremely difficult to extract anything from this particular lake (which is probably why it was chosen). Why you ask? (well you may not have asked, but you’ve stuck with me this far!) The lake’s maximum depth is 103m however after 20m there is no oxygen, which means when things sink in the lake, they don’t decay. Which would be great for treasure hunters since there is a good chance that these bills would be in at least o.k. shape. The sticky wicket here is the fact that there is a layer of sunken un-decayed trees/logs half way down in the lake, which makes it difficult and/or impossible to explore the bottom of the lake. Many divers over the years have perished trying to map the bottom by getting tangled up by them.
While Christie's encounter with MI5 is well documented, I couldn’t find any information on if Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse caused any kind of kerfuffle among the Nazi brass when it published. She obviously had a really plausible plot and a better way of distributing the fake cash (in my opinion) than the Nazis did - it's a good thing they didn't have more time to consider her (sort of) suggestion! I would have loved to have been fly on the wall in that meeting when/if the Nazis became aware of Allingham’s book...She might have made them sweat!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2015