In his 22nd adventure, a gentleman detective takes on local politics and characters as eccentric as he is.
When Albert Campion visits the picturesque East Anglian town of Lindsay Carfax, it’s purportedly to visit Eliza Jane Fitton, his wife’s niece. His ulterior motive, however, is to nose around the town at the request of his friend, CID Superintendent Charles Luke. The town’s mysterious governing body, the Carders, dates back to the late Middle Ages and pays homage to Lindsay Carfax’s heyday as a prosperous wool-trading center. Now it’s the tourists who get fleeced, as Campion discovers when he visits the antiques store that sells his niece’s paint-to-order landscapes and the shop of an 18th-century apothecary and his weather-forecasting apparatus, the Humble Box. But the quaint half-timbered buildings belie a more modern tragedy: Two archaeology students died from a drug overdose the year before during an influx of hippies. More recently, a schoolteacher became the latest Nine Days’ Wonder when he disappeared and reappeared the worse for wear, and Eliza Jane was hurt by a booby trap meant for her artist boyfriend. A visit to Campion’s Cambridge college further educates him about the wool business and the practice of owling, or sheep smuggling. But his real focus is on secret underground passages that everyone knows about and the secret Carders whose identities are equally open knowledge. Underneath what his wife calls an Idiot-in-Search-of-a-Village expression, Campion is shrewd enough to discover the truth in Ripley's completion of a fragment left behind by Campion creator Margery Allingham’s husband, who wrote several Campion adventures in her name after she died.
Ripley (Angels Unaware, 2008, etc.) is almost too successful in fulfilling the bespectacled detective’s ploy of making himself an ineffectual nonentity. Only toward the end of this meandering, fitfully amusing, resolutely twee story does Campion become more than a sad echo of an earlier age.