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