There have actually been two discussions of Hide My Eyes (aka Tether’s End) (1958) on the AlbertCampion list – in April 2006, and again on a particular aspect of the book in April 2009. It is impossible to discuss this book without spoilers. The exact ending is hidden and I will not reveal it, but the general plot is not in the form of a mystery.There is certainly no question of whodunnit, but if you have not finished the book it still might be wise to ignore this post until you have.
Hide My Eyes is a book which I did not remember clearly but following this re-reading is one I would rate as one of Allingham’s masterpieces (the others so far are, for me, Dancers, Fashion, Traitors and Tiger – although this is probably not a discussion we should have now).

In terms of what is happening with Allingham’s writing I want to go back a little, especially as I have been away since Coroners. Coroners Pidgin and More Work for the Undertaker are both it seems to me transitory books. This is not to undermine or denigrate them; they are both fascinating and strong. But they seem to me to both look back and forward in terms of sequence (this is of course a judgement made in hindsight). Both are centred on Albert in the style of the pre-war books. Undertaker in particular questions what his role in the post-war world is to be. In a sense this looks back. On the other hand they are both London books. I know that previous books have been set in London and we have seen foreshadowings of this development. But it is in these books that London becomes
dominant. A character in its own right ; vast, mysterious, sinister and yet at times joyful. This looks forward to Tiger and Hide; it is not yet fully realised.

There is then that vast leap, that step into a world of darkness represented by Tiger. What an incredible book. A study of evil. Here was a new direction found in a startling way. And it is a new direction in which Albert is to extent marginal. He does not fit in. So his part is reduced. This shows the extent of Allingham’s greatness. She was prepared to make this move because the fiction she wanted to write demanded it.

But did she miss Albert? Did readers complain? Was she drained by the writing? (Roger or others may well be able to supply answers).Whatever the reason
Beckoning Lady represents a retreat. A retreat from London. A retreat to the very early books. A retreat to Albert. But it doesn’t work. All the comments I
read here seemed agreed on that. I am actually less negative than some (I have no problems with Luke and Pru – you cynical lot :)) but I still think it is a failure. There is no going back – the world has moved on and Allingham is, by now, such a realist, so concerned with the world about her, that the book feels false. It certainly has its joys and delights like any novel of return to happy childhood. But these are not challenging.

So what does she do? Returns very directly to the territory of Tiger. London and evil and innocence. And as a result Campion retreats again. His part in Hide is minimal.There is a marvellous passage in Chapter 15 where Campion is introduced to Inspector Donne…”Campion was faintly dismayed to notice that he was being apprised in the light of a legend and an example encountered in the flesh for the first time”. He has become legend and myth – perhaps to some extent for Allingham too.

And yet. We are connected back to the early books, to green and pleasant Suffolk by the figure of Annabelle. Annabelle’s function is not just to give us a heroine
in peril – her peril is quite limited. We must note that for her London is marvellous, joyous, exciting. It gives her freedom and independence. There is no hackneyed and clichéd bad city/good country duality in Allingham. The city may harbour great evil ; it also offers freedom and excitement and pleasure. All this you will have noticed takes the form of introductory ramblings – I have not even got near the main themes of the book and its astonishing central figure – the tragic Polly. This is long enough for now so I will save that for later.

In my first post I tried to place Hide My Eyes in the context of the Campion series. Here I want to dwell on the book in its own terms.

The central wonder and greatness of the book for me revolves around the figure of Polly. Campion, we have noted, hardly appears. Annabelle is a delight but an insubstantial figure. Richard is a rather mundane hero. Gerry is a riveting villain but one feels one has met him before. With Polly however Allingham has created an original. And she works on two levels. As a character in her own right. Allingham has always been at her best with older women. Roger could no doubt provide us with a wonderful list – but books which spring to my mind are Police at The Funeral, Death of A Ghost, Black Plumes. Polly of course is not one of these matriarchs. But she is engaging, charming, delightful.Yet, at a second level, Polly is used by Allingham for a further examination of innocence and its perversion. There is something of the moral fable here. No simple fable either but a complicated one. Allingham never ducks this issue. Polly’s innocence is wilful. And that wilfulness has cost lives. It has led to evil. Turning a blind eye is here a crime. And yet it is a crime which is humanised; humanised in the form of a lovable, generous old lady. People often talk about Golden Age mystery writing as bland, as a matter of technical whodunnits with no real sense of crime, or evil, or the messiness of life. I don’t know if those people have ever read a book like Hide My Eyes, or if they have whether they have thought about it, responded to it properly.

The ending of Hide My Eyes, while conventionally happy for Annabelle and Richard is in many ways as bleak as it gets. There is no remission for Polly. Her life will be a misery.

Gerry. I said that he was less interesting than Polly but it is still a remarkable portrait of a sociopath. In Chapter 10 Gerry outlines his own philosophy…

I never let anything tear the skin. I’ve never been faintly fond of anything or of anybody in my life.’ He spoke lightly but with satisfaction. ‘I’m deadly serious about this. I spotted the plain mechanical truth of it as a child. You could almost call it the Chad-Horder discovery. Any kind of affection is a solvent. It melts and adulterates the subject and by indulging it he loses his identity and hence his efficiency.

It is worth noting that Richard fails completely to discern the menace in this; he still has Gerry down as some kind of small-time crook or fraudster until very near the book’s end. It is also worth noting that to some extent Gerry is lying; he is ‘faintly fond’ of Polly as again the book’s climax will reveal. But beyond this it is worth noting that this kind of ‘philosophy’ (one should not really dignify it with this title) is one which remains very evident in society – ‘its a dog eat dog world’, ‘every man for himself’, the clichés are endless; and this kind of emotional and moral selfishness and isolation are often the recipients of praise – care for and connection to others is seen as ‘soft’ – a weakness. I think it is quite justifiable to draw these wider parallels because I think Hide My Eyes is a serious book and Allingham is making serious points. The logical conclusion of such lines of thought are sociopathy and murder. Gerry is a great creation because he is not a bug-eyed monster; he is plausible, believable, even to some extent charming.

Second, the sheer quality of some of the writing. Allingham (unlike her peers) just seems to get better and better.Many passages could be selected…here is one
from quite late in the book when Polly is finally forced to confront Gerry and the truth about him…

She was dead to the gay room, to the fleeing children, to the blessed ordinary programme of sleeping and waking, lost in a single dreadful effort to comprehend

Wonderful!

************************************8

From Elizabeth B….

I hadn’t realised before just how many psychopaths she does feature. I suppose that is not that unexpected in a mystery writer, but I associate it more with more recent writers. It doesn’t seem to me to be a feature of other Golden Age writers so much.

Christine answered….

Psychos and sociopaths seem to be Allingham’s stock in trade. In addition to Tiger in the Smoke and Tether’s End, at least three other books feature clearly psychotic villains: Sweet Danger, Traitor’s Purse and Death of a Ghost. There are others where the wrong doers are sociopaths: Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, A Fashion in Shrouds, Police at the Funeral, Dancers in Mourning. It seems as though she finds it difficult to contemplate evil-it is easier to see a screw loose. Agatha Christie suggested a great many of her killers were plain evil! Of course Allingham does a much better job creating her eccentric characters.

I think this is a very tricky area because defintions of what makes a psychopath/sociopath  will vary. I think it can certainly be said that the characters in Tiger/Tether (I’ll use the US title for ease) are psychopathic and represent a new and startling departure among the GA Queens – one reason for the book’s extraordinary power and also why some GA fans don’t like them. Havoc for instance is a figure who has hardly dated at all.

I am not sure that I would say any of the other characters are psychopaths. At the risk of generalising my own study of motive in Allingham and Christie is that in the latter money is the most prevalent motive – if you follow the money you will be right more often than not (although following the money is always very complex indeed!!) – although in her very late books this became less true. For Allingham on the other hand the motive, or problem, is more likely to be one of ego. I suppose you can define this as psychopathic or sociopathic or, indeed, evil. It is a fascinating point which would be very interesting to consider in relation to each individual book.

I have re-titled this fascinating discussion as we have moved into much wider waters.

Wider and murkier! Very obviously these issues and questions are not only incapable of any solution or definite answer, they are also crucial to the way in which people view the world – we are really talking about free will and the extent to which it exists, and one’s attitude to this will be determined by one’s philosophical and theological viewpoints (so it is highly commendable that the discussion is being conducted in such a wonderfully civilised manner :)).

What we can say is that in Allingham’s mature work these questions do very much come to the fore, in a way which they don’t tend to in her contemporaries. One needs to be careful here of course. In one sense most murderers are ‘evil’ in the sense that they commit evil acts. That doesn’t take us very far and is fairly dull. The interest and debate start to come in when we get to motive, and to characters who commit ‘evil’ acts not out of any self-interest (for money, to protect themselves etc.), but either because they actually get pleasure from the act, or because they don’t see the act as evil (interestingly one of Christie’s most ‘evil’ characters in this sense is not a murderer at all but a victim – Mrs Boynton in Appointment With Death). Now quite a lot of Allingham’s characters fall into the latter categories – far more I would judge than her contemporaries (though now the idea is much more common).

Using Beth’s definition…

From what I have been able to find out a psychopath is a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse. (definition)

But this of course begs all sorts of questions – most crucially for us that of free will. To quote Roger…

Nick, if I read him correctly, is more of my own opinion, that Marge was much bolder in contemplating evil than most of her contemporaries. One of the policemen in “The Tiger in the Smoke” says that he does not believe that Jack Havoc is in any way mad. Assistant Commissioner Oates grudgingly admires Havoc’s stamina and determination in feigning a form of obsession, but is quite clear that Havoc is that rare thing, a truly wicked man.Canon Avril recognises that Havoc has chosen to be bad, quoting Satan’s line from “Paradise Lost”: “Evil, be thou my good.” Neither Jack Havoc nor Gerry Hawker (in “Hide My Eyes”) kills or steals compulsively or impulsively. Even a supreme egotist has a choice. Even a psychopath has a choice.

You certainly were reading me correctly Roger :).

But I was merely trying to present what I thought were Allingham’s views. My own are much less clear-cut and constantly in revision in any case! (and not of interest here anyway).

Well we will be reading Tiger in May and it will be fascinating to do so with this discussion in mind. As mr molesack commented…”TIGER is at least partly about how and why people turn to evil, and the destructive effects that it can have on them.”

 

 

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