The Tiger in the Smoke
First published in the UK 1952, Chatto & Windus
This edition The New Windmill Series, Heinemann, 1962
Source: Reviewer’s own
‘Do you remember those years, Amanda? They seem quite mad at this distance. Dull, and uncomfortable, and full of awful secrets and half-guesses.’
Tiger is a war story in many ways. For starters, it features two armies, albeit massively different in scale.
On one side the police force. On the other, the grotesque private army led by Tiddy Doll. They appear – apparently incidentally – in chapter one and are depicted in all of their ramshackle glory on the cover of my New Windmill edition of the book.
The knot of men who were playing were half in the gutter and half on the pavement. They were moving along steadily, as the law insists, and the rattle of their collecting boxes was as noisy as their tune. They were some little way away and it was not possible to distinguish individuals, but there was a ruthless urgency in their movements…
Tiddy Doll is a strong enough character to be effective as the chief villain in any other book. He is a big, rangy albino with poor sight who somehow managed to be accepted into the Army because of his organisational ability. Since the War, Tiddy has marshalled a disorderly collection of misfits into something approaching a squad, which he rules as thoroughly as any NCO. They all live in a cellar under a shop:
[Geoffrey Levett] had seen places like it before, when a Company on active service under a good sergeant had dug itself in in some long-held position.
The band emerge every morning to play their instruments on the street. Tiddy could presumably achieve much more in civilian life, but he has his reasons for making the choices he has. Begging is not the primary objective of the band, but is a means of keeping them alive. He also has a strong streak of cruelty which his shabby existence allows him to exercise with virtual impunity.
The band is so obviously military that Meg Elginbrodde’s fiancé Geoffrey Levett recognises them immediately and responds according to his own training and experience.
Geoffrey brushed through the group. His chin stuck out. He had forgotten the present and was back in a world of sweat, petroleum and khaki.
‘Tom,’ he said, his voice sharp with authority, ‘pull yourself together, man. Is Major Elginbrodde dead?’
Pecking order and the establishment of dominance is very much how life is played out in Tiddy’s cellar. When Jack Havoc drops in from above (the image is from the new Folio Society edition), he is instantly able to assert himself as top dog and soon ‘picks his officers’.
Away from Tiddy’s band, the violence of the War has cast a long shadow over London.
‘Remember V2’s? The whole city waiting. Silent. People on edge. More waiting. Waiting for hours. Nothing. Nothing to show. Then, strike a light! Suddenly, no warning, no whistle, wallop! End of the ruddy world!’
Seven years is not long enough to forget the realities of war. Memories of that time are typically expressed by Charlie Luke, in his role as archetypical Cockney. In particular he muses on the echoes of daily violence.
‘Violence,’ [Campion] said aloud.
‘That’s it chum [….] It’s always there in London under the good temper. D’you remember in the blitz, “I wouldn’t be dead for a pound”? That wasn’t half a joke then. It tickled us, just touched the spot. Poor old George, blood streaming down his face! Laugh! I thought we’d bust our braces. I laughed myself,’ he said.
Strikingly, given Allingham’s usual interest in the fabric of London, she doesn’t seem to extend this thinking to the bomb damage to the city. But this can be found in Allingham’s 1963 book The China Governess.
Next time: Good and Evil
See also: Confessions of a Mystery Novelist on WWII crime novels. ‘The world was not magically made right again after the war. There were many scattered pieces, if I may put it that way, to be picked up, and millions of shattered lives to be put back together. ‘
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.