Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, April 11, 2014


The Darings of the Red Rose by Margery Allingham (1995)

The third book published by Crippen & Landru, The Darings of the Red Rose collects tales first published anonymously in the British magazine Weekly Welcome over a period of eight weeks in 1930.  To call these early stories slap-dash may not be totally accurate, but they were written at a rapid pace by a young writer just beginning to hone her craft, have written mainly stories adapted from films of the time in Girl's Cinema.  This is a pre-Campion Allingham, although there are hints of the early Albert Campion scattered throughout the stories.  (Albert Campion, over his long career, evolved from a slightly shady, picaresque well-born adventurer into a mature, into a mature and responsible detective -- only Ellery Queen (the detective) came close to having as many shifts of changing persona, methinks.)

The Red Rose is the name that Scotland Yard has given to the daring Robin Hoodish adventuress Betty Connelly.  Born to wealth, she was driven to poverty, along with her entire home town, by the barely legal (and highly immoral) machinations of a syndicate of eight financiers.  Luckier than her other townspeople, Betty was raised from her enforced poverty back to wealth by a surprise inheritance.  Now rich and influential, Betty has vowed to exact financial revenge on each of the eight financiers.  All else -- including her romance with Tommy Kempis, the son of an earl and a man with connections to Scotland Yard (whether Tommy is an amateur dabbler, a consultant, or a true detective is unclear) -- must take a back seat to Betty's plans for revenge.

Handsome Tommy is a bit of a dim bulb, as is just about everyone in the stories.  In one story, Tommy does not know if the Red Rose is a man or a woman, later he knows it is a woman, and even later he refers to the Red Rose as a man.  Betty never really declares her love for Tommy, although she is terribly "fond" of him and it is assumed they will get married after the eight men get theirs.

The characters are stock, cut from cardboard.  The capers are laughable.  The villains are as ugly as they are evil.  Coincidences abound.  Crucial details are never explained.  Inconsistencies weave their way through the tales like a drunken bumble bee.  None of this matters.  Taking these stories at face value is all that Allingham's readers in Weekly Welcome needed:  a beautiful and romantic heroine, unjustly wronged, braves a man's world to set things right.

What is interesting is that the Red Rose gets money from her eight victims in eight different ways and manages to funnel the money back to the impoverished residents of Wellside (her home town) in as many different ways.

The Darings of the Red Rose provides an interesting look at Allingham's early career (her first novel -- a non-Campion that she later managed to keep from being reprinted during her lifetime -- was published the same year), but I really think this one is best left for Allingham completists.

(For those who do wish to read the book, I suggest they also read Grant Allen's much earlier [1897] collection An African Millionaire, which shows how a "biter-bit" story should be written.)


  1. I love Crippen and Landrau's books. I've read a few of Allingham's novels, but not this one. Nice review!

  2. C&L really does a fantastic job in bringing back old, overlooked, or unknown stories. They are one of the best small publishers around and their books are always worthwhile. As you can tell George, like you, I'm a big fan.

  3. Have it, read it, liked it. I'm a big C&L fan too.