MR CAMPION’S VISIT by Mike Ripley, Severn House (Release: 30 June 2019, £20.99)
Mr Campion’s Visit is the sixth book in Mike Ripley’s marvellous continuance of the Albert Campion novels by Margery Allingham. Set in 1970 it finds Campion, having recovered from the events of his recent seventieth birthday party (Mr Campion’s War), visiting the brand-new University of Suffolk Coastal in his official role of the ‘Visitor’ to the University. It is a vague role, but one which Campion is enjoying, as he wanders the University observing the staff and the students. The University encompasses the former estate of Black Dudley, where Campion had attended a weekend house party towards the end of the 1920s and helped solve a murder. His involvement in the long ago “trouble with those gangsters and the dagger ritual that went wrong”, has given him some notoriety, which comes in handy when a new murder occurs on the University grounds.
As the reluctant eyes and ears of the Bishop responsible for the establishment of the University, Campion finds himself drawn into the murder investigation, much to the annoyance of the police. The murder victim was a controversial figure on the campus and Campion has to work his way through a maze of motives including internal university rivalries, jealous lovers, revolutionary politics and the possible involvement of the CIA. There is also a phantom trumpeter who is constantly disturbing Campion’s sleep.
It is a fun read and a well plotted murder mystery, with a good selection of possible suspects. It takes a little while for the murder to occur, but Ripley keeps the reader well entertained during the early parts of the book with Campion’s wry comments on university life and amusing flashbacks to the planning meetings on the establishment of the University of Suffolk Coastal. The opening section on the initial meeting, set in 1960, is a delightful, laugh-out-loud description of how the university came about and concludes with the Lord Bishop’s exclamation:
“A pair of bushy ecclesiastical eyebrows rose in surprise. ‘They have universities in America?’”
Once the murder occurs, Ripley unfolds the clues and red herrings with aplomb and his charming narrative style and dollops of good humour keeps the reader happily engaged till the end. There are some terrific set-pieces, including Campion’s inventive and amusing efforts to halt a student protest march as it crosses the bridge to the main administration building. The unveiling of the murderer is also cleverly handled in a way that mocks the classic drawing together of murder suspects in a Golden Age mystery:
“’the exposition; the solution to a mystery presented as a lecture based on supposition, conjecture, speculation and massive coincidences by the infallible detective. I’m surprised that you didn’t gather all the suspects together in the library!’”
Despite the humour, it is still a well worked out and surprising conclusion that will satisfy fans of classic mysteries, even if Campion admits afterwards:
“’Like the best amateur detectives in the best country-house mysteries, it was all down to one thing – pure guesswork.’”
The story is aided by some fine, sharp eyed descriptions and Ripley seamlessly weaves in interesting historical facts to give flesh to the historical period, and does a particularly good job of capturing the small details that make his recreation of 1970 convincing, and amusing. He also provides wry comments on future events and inventions, especially the mobile phone.
Fans of the original novels by Margery Allingham, will also enjoy the return of Campion to Black Dudley, the location of the first Campion novel in 1929, The Crime At Black Dudley. It ties the modern books back to the original stories and gives Ripley a chance to reflect on the original case and the changing of society and values, which occurred between 1929 and 1970 in England.
In all, this is a very entertaining read, one of my favourites so far this year, and is highly recommended.
Mr Campion’s Visit is released in the United Kingdom on 30 June 2019 and in the United States on 1 October 2019.
Thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for an advanced copy of the book in return for my honest review.