This is a summary of my observations on Flowers for The Judge (1936) made during a discussion on the AlbertCampion Yahoo list in March 2005. References are made to other list participant’s posts.

As I have said in a previous post, for me these (Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, Dancers in Mourning) are Allingham’s ‘breakthrough’ books where she moves from being a very pleasing, entertaining but essentially minor writer into the ranks of the British mystery greats. I have been trying to analyse what elements comprise this shift and have come up the following…

1.) The development of her powers of description and detail and minor characterisation, and the placing of these at the service of the whole book. You can pick
these from almost any page of  Flowers for the Judge. Here a few random examples……. Mrs Austin looked with the “shrewd glance of a mendicant pigeon”; Tanner made his statement ”with awful conviction of the slightly inhuman”; in the fog “London was like an old brown lithograph chalked by a man with no eye for detail”

2.) That final example moves to my second point which is the move to London. This of course is also true of Ghost and we have had glimpses of London in
earlier books. But from now on most of the major books will have a London feel, even if, like Dancers, the action takes place outside London. This will build up to
Tiger. Allingham is for me without question the great London writer among British mystery writers, and the word which springs to mind, as it does in connection with point 1, is Dickensian.

3.) I do not feel however that the move to London is merely a matter of location. It seems to me to symbolise a move by Allingham in these books to dealing with, observing, commenting on the present. The real situation, social and psychological, of her contemporaries. This point is both somewhat nebulous and far from being necessarily to be considered a good – Robert Barnard is one notable and respected critic who regards it with disfavour. I will develop this theme in subsequent posts.

4.) The evolution of Campion into a rounded human-being with all the faults and problems that entails. In a way this follows from 3. It would simply not be possible to continue with what Emily has so pithily described as ‘the silly-ass persona’ while making serious points and observations about contemporary society. But the development of his character in Dancers ( as far as I know a first for British mysteries – certainly far beyond anything Sayers attempted with Wimsey or Marsh with Alleyn and never a possibility for Christie) is still breathtakingly audacious and unexpected.

In respect of these points it is of course the third and fourth which matter most and which are the unexpected ones. Because as far as I can see there is little if
anything in the preceding books to prepare us for this development.

Roger (I think this was you Roger! :)) wrote…” For the record, although it has excellent features, I find ‘Flowers for the Judge’ the least involving of the pre-war Campion novels – mainly because Mike and Gina are rather boring instead of being as engaging as their creator evidently intended. I like Richie Barnabas, though.”

Judy replied…”I agree – Richie is wonderful, but Mike and Gina are rather colourless, so far anyway.”

I want to take Mike and Gina first. It seems to me that Allingham had decided to deal, quite seriously, with the question of what would happen, in her own day, if a man should fall in love with a woman who was in a loveless marriage. Because of this she quite deliberately makes Mike and Gina fairly colourless and ‘normal’ – it was with ‘normal’ people that she was concerned. It is of course hard for us to take all this seriously – today Gina and Mike would simply go off together, no-one any worse off, and a matter of no interest or comment. That was not the case in the 1930’s. Having said this I do not think Allingham achieves her objective. In a way the story is hi-jacked by the much more interesting, colourful and engaging Richie. So what does she do? She returns to her theme in Dancers but with vastly increased force – here the marriage is not loveless and the lover is Campion himself! This of course deserves quite separate consideration but one cannot but be struck by this thematic continuation (which will continue with variations in Fashion – indeed one might see the three books as one of those Allingham trilogies – the theme here being love and marriage.).

Turning now to Richie, who I would agree dominates Judge whether or not that was the original intention. At the start of Chapter 11 there is an extraordinary passage where Richie gives his view of the world he sees around him…

“All terrible….All this. All these people. They’re all in prison. All miserable. All slaves. All got to work when they don’t want to, eat when they don’t want to, sleep when they don’t want to. Can’t drink until someone says they may. Can’t hide their faces, got to hide their bodies. No freedom anywhere. I hate it. Frightens me. Knew a man once who chucked it. I couldn’t” “It’s a feeling one does get sometimes,” Mr Campion conceded.

Now quite apart from its remarkable literary power there are at least two things I would note about this…

1. It sets Allingham very clearly apart from Christie/Sayers/Marsh. Yes I know a lot of things do, but this one passage is itself enough. Not just because of
its force but because Allingham is clearly to some degree sympathetic to the point of view. Christie and Sayers at least would have regarded it as pernicious nonsense.
2. It is extraordinarily out of its time in some ways. Or at least our perception, of what ‘times’ , in this case the 1930’s, are. What does Richie (and Tom years before him) do? He  drops out and goes to live in a circus. Can one imagine anything more sixties? Allingham is not merely observing contemporary society she is in some ways something of a radical. Not of course a political radical, or anything one would describe as left-wing, but still radical.

This is re-inforced by the passage in Chapter 17 where Richie describes his reaction to the court process…”…Mike’s grey. Hair’s grey. Two men in delightful clothes arguing for his life. Like a game….rules….places to stand. Felt ill. Sick. Wanted to spew. Frightened, Campion”.Again a very unique voice. This passage, of course, reflects back on the title of the book and the judges nosegay. And again one might contrast Allingham and Sayers.To the latter this fact would have been a delightful reminder of tradition, for Allingham it has its picturesque curiosity value but there is also a slightly sinister, unpleasant side to it.

All of the above is also evidence if you like of my general point that in these books we see Allingham changing gear.

The difference between Judge and Dancers however is that in the former Albert remains, mainly, outside. This will all change in Dancers and we have a very odd intimation of this in a curious reflection by Albert in Chapter 14 when talking to Rigget…”It occurred to Mr Campion that what Mr Rigget really needed was some
sort of reverse process of psycho-analysis. To know the truth about oneself, if it were both unpleasant and incurable , must be a variety of hell, he
deceided”. And so our author decides to show our Albert exactly how hellish! I am sure this was not in Allingham’s mind when she wrote Judge (or nearly sure – it is very curious! :)) but its relevance with reader’s hindsight is amazing.

Maybe Albert would have done better to stay at the circus?. But no – I think one of the points of those last circus scenes (wonderfully touching) are to say that this was not Albert’s world – he is not a clown and he cannot, at this stage in his career anyhow, renounce his world, because he, like his creator, is very much part of it.