No Love Lost contains two non-series novellas by Past Offences favourite Margery Allingham. As the title suggests, the two stories are connected by the theme of love, although the damage caused by gossip in small communities is a strong secondary theme.
In ‘The Patient at Peacocks Hall’, a young doctor who has never quite recovered from being dumped in favour of a movie starlet, is presented with the unenviable prospect of nursing her rival back to health. The plot thickens when it turns out her rival has been poisoned and she is in the frame. Then her ex turns up…
In ‘Safer than Love ‘, we meet another young woman, Liz, who has opted for a conventional marriage to a boring man in preference to a more dangerous suitor. Unfortunately her husband is controlling rather than staid, and she is just beginning to regret her decision when her ex comes calling – and her husband is found dead.
‘Peacocks Hall’ is suspenseful in the style of Ethel Lina White, but the plot is pretty improbable and I couldn’t buy into the story. ‘Safer than Love’ is more believable in plot terms but feels inconsequential. In both stories the narrator is a young woman at the mercy of local gossip, suspicious circumstances, and the law.
Both stories benefit from Allingham’s trademark psychological insights:
‘This has upset you a thousand times more than the death of your husband. Why?’
I remember making a gesture of helplessness as my eyes widened and my vision began to blur.
‘Well, I said brokenly, ‘it’s come on top of it.’
And as usual a strong supporting cast. Superintendent ‘Uncle’ Fred South, who appears out of nowhere like an amiable demon and is never far from a home-cooked steak and kidney pudding. Rhoda, a faithful family servant who knows everything but understands absolutely nothing. Dr Percy Ludlow, the village doctor who can diagnose illness with a sniff and a quick look under your eyelids, but who is powerless against paperwork.
I am reading No Love Lost as my contribution to Crimes of the Century, which this month is looking at 1954. There is plenty of material in both stories to anchor them to the 1950s, perhaps most tellingly the paragraphs dealing with the new National Health Service. I gather Allingham was anti…
The waiting-room was packed and I cursed socialized medicine. To my mind its weakness was elementary, and I felt somebody might have foreseen it. Since everyone was forced to pay a whacking great weekly premium for medical insurance, nearly everybody, not unexpectedly, thought they might as well get something out of it.
awoke one July morning to discover himself a paid government clerk as well as an unpaid general practitioner. In fact, instead of having one master in his sacred calling, he found he had two, and the second (who held the purse strings) was a vast, impersonal, remarkably uninformed machine…
Overall, not classic Allingham, but enjoyable enough.
No Love Lost
First published by The World’s Work. 1954
This edition Penguin Books 1961
Source: The Past Offences library
Final destination: A keeper
I often feel bad that I haven’t read much Allingham and that I haven’t had my socks knocked off much by what I have read. But then I read reviews like yours and think maybe I am being a bit harsh on myself. Think my favourites so far have been Mr Campion and Others and The Tiger in the Smoke. Do you have any Allingham favourites or recommendations?
I read these two a while back, and although they are not vintage Allingham by any means, I very much enjoyed the details of time and place. There’s a marvellous bit (for me, obviously) where the woman doctor is told to put on a ‘Christian skirt’ rather than trousers to visit a patient.
To Kate I would say, Tiger in the Smoke and Fashion in Shrouds….
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To Kate I’d say, read the whole Allingham oeuvre: She had her ups and downs, as all writers do, but (at least so I think) you don’t get the most out of something like The Tiger in the Smoke unless you’ve read the stuff before it and then read the stuff after it. Some of her early stuff is Not Good, to say the least; the Youngman Carters have never please me. But all of that glorious stuff in the middle, running the gamut from impossible crimes to daft espionage stories? Choosing one here and one there is like leaving the veggies on the side of your plate.
Interesting idea to suggest you need to read the worst examples of someone’s writing to appreciate their best. I wouldn’t have recommended anyone reading Passenger to Frankfurt in order to appreciate The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Murder at the Vicarage. I’ve read 8 books from the middle and the end of her writing period (Allingham that is) and only 2 were better than middling, so I think proportionally continuing your metaphor, I’ve had far more veg than meat, so I definitely have enough poor reads to make me appreciate any decent novel Allingham has produced.
only 2 were better than middling
In that case, you probably just don’t get on with Allingham.
I’m working my way through Allingham and Marsh chronologically at the moment (just finished Dancers in Mourning from 1937), and even in the early years they have their ups and downs. Both of them seem to be generally more interested in the people than in the crime, which if the balance is going to be weighed on one side is the way I prefer it.