British mystery writer, Margery Allingham, is known for her series featuring Scotland sleuth Albert Campion, but she also wrote a number of stand-alone novels. Black Plumes is one such.
Frances Ivory is a troubled young lady. Her father, Meyrick Ivory, the owner of a prestigious art gallery is touring the world and in his absence the gallery is being managed by Frances' brother-in-law, Robert Madrigal, the husband of her half-sister, Phillida. The problem is that things are not being managed properly. Paintings are being slashed, priceless artifacts being broken, important programmes being burnt. And if that is not enough, Robert wants her to marry his assistant, Henry Lucar. Not only is the man downright creepy, he is the very man, Frances suspects, of being behind the vandalism. Knowing that she can get no help from the neurotic Phillida, Frances appeals to her grandmother, the formidable Gabrielle Ivory. However, the old lady can think of no solution and in desperation, Frances turns to the painter David Field, the artist whose painting had been destroyed. In order to help her, David pretends to be engaged to her. This stops Lucar's overtures (though he goes into a maddening rage) but complicates things for Frances as she has always been in love with David but who oblivious to her feelings is still in love with Phillida.
Things come to a head after a stormy meeting between David, Lucar, and Robert. The next day, Robert is nowhere to be found. Everybody is much too relieved to be too disturbed. But things take a nasty turn when his body is found stuffed into a closet. Lucar is missing so suspicion naturally falls on him. It'd be so convenient if he'd turn out to be the murderer. But Frances had seen Lucar leave on that fateful day of the fight before David did and that time Robert was very much alive. In fact, Frances had also witnessed David behaving in a suspicious manner. But should she reveal this to the police? And if things were not bad enough, intrepid explorer Dolly Godolphin, presumed to be dead these many years, turns up and claims to be the husband of Phillida. She had this habit, David tells Frances, of chalking up numbers...
Though far better than the last two Allingham that I read, this novel wasn't too interesting. I could guess the identity of the murderer (though only through the fact of the murder weapon). What irked me no end was the character of the grandmother and her devoted servant. The iron-blooded matriarch and her devoted for life-and-beyond servant might be a favourite of English writers in general and Allingham in particular but these old ladies with all the flag-waving running through their veins merely put my teeth on edge.
First Line: The October wind, which had promised rain all day, hesitated in its reckless flight down the moist pavements to hurl a handful of fine drops at the windows of the drawing-room in the big Hampstead house.
Title: Black Plumes
Author: Margery Allingham
Publication Details: Middlesex: London, 1972
First Published : 1940
Other Books Read of the same author: (Among others) Tiger in the Smoke, Police at the Funeral, The Crime at Black Dudley, More Work for the Undertaker
The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from H.M Library at Fountain.
Submitted for various challenges.
Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Do check the other entries.