Forgotten Book: Black Plumes by Margery Allingham

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

Pages: 238

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.

8 thoughts on “Forgotten Book: Black Plumes by Margery Allingham

  1. Neeru – I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like this one more than you did. And it's interesting isn't it how often our opinions of books are affected by whether or not we like one or another character. That's how important character development is for novels.


  2. Books with skulls or skeletons on the covers always entice me. I will have to look for this one. I have read all of the Margery Allingham books about Albert Campion, but I am not sure I have read any that don't feature him. I do have a copy of this one. I will have to check it out.


  3. Margot, my love for books is so character-driven that the moment I feel that the author is championing a character whom I really don't like it puts me off the book. 🙂


  4. Thanks Prashant. Though I have read quite a few books of Allingham, she is not really in the top-drawer for me. However, her TIGER IN THE SMOKE is very good and one that I'd recommend wholeheartedly.


  5. Tracy it is a decent enough mystery and far better than the last two I read of hers. I love the fact that you like books with skulls or skeletons on cover. Some covers are really do entice, don't they?


  6. I have not read any of the non-Campion books though I really like Allingham – sounds like this one is very beholden to its period, which is a bit of a shame perhaps. Thanks Neeru for the great review, as always.


  7. Thanks Sergio. I a really not fond of Allingham though I do rate her Tiger in the Smoke pretty high. This book is a decent read actually. The racism that is there in some other novels of Allingham is under cut in this one…but the formidable matriarch is a figure I have got tired of.


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