‘Sweat, petroleum and khaki…’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke


The Heinemann New Windmill edition – previously owned by Hampshire Education Committee, Winchester Danemark County Secondary Girls’ School – and seemingly unread.

The Tiger in the Smoke
Margery Allingham
First published in the UK 1952, Chatto & Windus
This edition The New Windmill Series, Heinemann, 1962
272 pages
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?’

FS_Tiger_4Pecking 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

More in this series of reviews:  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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

Creative Commons License
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in 2014 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Classic mystery book review, Margery Allingham, Suspense, Thriller, Witness Statements and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to ‘Sweat, petroleum and khaki…’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thank you, Rich, not only for the kind mention and link, but also for your thoughtful discussion of this novel. Allingham does a solid job here I think at portraying her society as well as telling a crime story. And as you point out, there’s solid character development here.


  2. realthog says:

    I remember this edition well, and of course the green Penguin; I’ve owned both at one time or another. The Reprint Society one looks amazing; I must keep an eye out for it.

    I’m reading The Allingham Case-Book at the moment and am struck by the truth of your observation in an earlier post re the relationship between Allingham and Charlie Luke: it’s almost as if she’s in love with him, isn’t it?

    Keep up the good work! This is a fascinating series.


    • westwoodrich says:

      That’s always been my theory. One day I’ll read a biography of Allingham and see if there were any Luke-alikes in her life.

      BTW I had the Casebook (amongst other collections) open today – I was trying to locate the letter Allingham wrote to Lugg but I got distracted and forgot to go back to the search. Is it in there?


      • realthog says:

        I was trying to locate the letter Allingham wrote to Lugg but I got distracted and forgot to go back to the search. Is it in there?

        I’m only three stories in, but I’ve just now riffled ahead on your behalf and it doesn’t look like it’s there.


      • westwoodrich says:

        Oh well, one for when I get upstairs. Thanks for looking though.


  3. Pingback: ‘A little ghostly bean.’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

  4. Pingback: ‘When he replaced his hat he put it on straight.’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

  5. Pingback: ‘We’re wonderfully highly mechanised at Central Office these days, Campion.’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

  6. Pingback: ‘The sky was yellow as a duster…’ Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

Make a statement...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s