Police At The Funeral: Vintage Book Review

I’ll admit I was drawn to this vintage paperback because of the cover. Spotting the sad little sweater girl, I thought to myself, “Why so glum, chum? What can happen to a pinup wearing a pink sweater? …Aside from the cruel misogyny of the world, that is.” But Police at the Funeral is a vintage murder mystery book, so there are larger crimes to come. (That’s why there’s a limp bound wrist illustrated on the cover; it’s not a BDSM book. *wink*)

Oh, and when I flipped through the book, I found this little goofy thing:

Who can resist a murder mystery with a sideways smiley face, of sorts, supposedly as a clue?

Since I was lured in by the pulp-esque cover, I had no clue as to the work or the author, Margery Allingham; as I typically do when I have no clue about the book, I scanned the covers and the copyright page for more clues. My copy is the second printing (April 1967) of the Macfadden publication (MB book #60-280). However, the work was originally published and copyrighted in 1931 and 1932, by Doubleday; which, I later discovered, was a later US publication of the original work put out in the UK in 1931 by Heinemann. So basically, what I have is a later reissue with a more “mod” retro pulp packaging, designed to lure new readers to an old (by now cheap) story. A tradition long upheld in publishing — one that obviously still works, as I’m a modern example.

Aside from being of interest to book collectors, fanciers of the book publishing industry, and the odd duck who cares about my behaviors, the dates of the work are important in terms of the review. For the book has that “formal” tone one oft equates with “old mysteries” — both from the British author and the time period standpoint; i.e. the book reads much like those of Agatha Christie, who was Allingham’s contemporary in what is now called the Golden Age of detective fiction.

The basic non-spoiler story is this: Albert Campion is called in by a friend to investigate the disappearance of a man. The man is found — dead. And so Campion winds up investigating by staying at the victim’s family home, the very “Gothic” Socrates Close, in Cambridge. Socrates Close, and the Farraday family it houses, are relics of Victorian times and mores. (The book’s title, Police At The Funeral, is a reference to the deep embarrassment felt by the scandal of murder; similar social rules regarding gender and race are also present.) More mystery, mayhem, and murder ensues until Campion solves the case. Here’s the back of the book for a full cast of characters:

Usually, I have the “who” in whodunit figured out quickly; one of the many reasons I’m not a huge reader of mysteries. But I’ll admit that I didn’t see this one a-comin’. Perhaps this is because, as Inspector Stanislaus said of the culprit and the culprit’s deeds on page 203, the book has “the right mixture of cleverness and lunacy — an elaborate, ingenious scheme.” However…

While not deducing the murderer (early on or at all) is one of the delights of reading a murder mystery novel, I found myself not caring so much.

Firstly, I found myself not caring so much because, formal tone and style of the work or not, I found the characters cold — cold enough that I didn’t particularly like any of them. So even though my morality demands that the criminal be caught, I didn’t so much worry who it was, why they did it, or what the effects of discovery might mean. And those, for me, are required parts for enjoyment of reading such novels. For even if I do figure it all out on page three, I still (hope to) enjoy the character driven consequences of discovery. In this book, this was absent — save for the unique personal gift Campion receives for a job well done: an antique (even then!) gaff taxidermy mermaid skeleton.

Secondly, I found the most interesting and engaging mystery to be that surrounding Albert Campion himself. There are subtle references, most often from the wealthy Great Aunt Caroline Farraday, that Campion’s real name and identity will be kept — even though there are a few clues here and there… Right up to the end of the book, where Great Aunt Caroline mentions that his grandmother is “dear Emily.” This was the mystery I was more concerned with! And it turns out, fans of the author and her works are too. Now that I’ve read the book, I did a little detective work of my own (research) and learned that not only was Police At The Funeral Allingham’s fourth novel with Albert Campion, but the character would eventually go on to feature in a total of 17 novels and over 20 short stories — and at no point is Campion’s true identity given! Now there’s the mystery worth solving! Perhaps 16 more novels and all those short stories later, I could piece a thing or two together…

Thanks to Allingham’s decent writing, I might consider such an endeavor — if only time were infinite. For I have sagging bookshelves awaiting me…

Speaking of sagging bookshelves, I’m willing to divest myself of this one now.  You can buy it from me using the button below for just $6, including US shipping. Or you can try eBay or Amazon.

Since I’ve now finished the book, I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to look up the author, and found that she was cheekily self-aware enough to say that she had “a figure designed for great endurance at a desk.” I sincerely take that to heart. For more on the author, see The Margery Allingham Society.

The Goodness Of A Mike Shayne Twinkie

A relatively recent 50 cent thrift store grab, a paperback copy of The Homicidal Virgin; cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

The Homicidal Virgin is, like all the Mike Shayne works, one of those classic gumshoe detective stories. Now, as far as “classic gumshoe fiction” goes, it’s a fairly predictable genre. That’s not to say the story endings are always seen a mile away (or before you finish reading the wraps), but, like most all pulp fiction works, it’s a rather formulaic genre — and it’s a slam-dunk that the detective will get his man along with his woman. (And should the perp be a woman, well, the lucky detective gets two women.)

As an avid reader, I avoided most works in this genre, along with the related “romance novels” for many years. But after collecting vintage pulp novels & retro paperbacks for their covers, I began to become interested in what lay beneath the art. After reading a few, I found that these vintage and retro works can be like Twinkies: something sweet & quick to enjoy between real sustenance. And that too many (or one bad one) can hurt your teeth (from excessive grinding) &/or give you a giddy giggly high. Anyway, every now and then, I grab a pulp off the shelf and read it.

The Homicidal Virgin beckons with sex. From the back cover:


Mike Shayne had been in hotel bedrooms with beautiful girls before, but this time it was different. This girl was different. She didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and she blushed.

Unfortunately, she was too good to be true. But Mike didn’t realize this until later, after she lowered her eyelids and softly confessed her one little vice — murder.

As if that tease wouldn’t lure in the usual male readership, the front teaser page promises even more…


One was seated on the last stool against the wall. She wore a low-necked ruby-red dress and tinted Harlequin glasses that effectively concealed her eyes, but Shayne could still feel her piercing gaze.

The other had just arrived. She seemed too young to be dropping into a cocktail lounge alone. Not yet twenty, Shayne thought, with a virginal and appealing look of timidity about her.

They both wanted to talk to detective Shayne. Ruby-Red Dress had a difficult-to-believe story of a missing husband; Miss Virgin, and even more harrowing tale of sexual depravity. And the strange thing was, both stories were connected — with utter improbabilities.

Right at the moment, Shayne didn’t know which woman he had more faith in. It was almost impossible to believe that both of them had been speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the way through.

As a sophisticated woman of 2009, I find the sexual stereotypes laughable. But then again, this fictional world of laughable gender roles is far preferable to the confusing oppression of the real world — of the 60’s or today. I daresay that it’s done purposefully to be somewhat comical in the man’s-man tone. (It is certainly benign — no action, and less heaving bosoms than a Harlequin novel.) So why not float in it, go with the current? Especially when you know that the book isn’t going to live up to all that pseudo sexual tension. Hell, it downright misleads with the situational placement of the women (they do not both appear in the bar to tell their stories near simultaneously). But I guess as a teaser, it works for the typical audience.

As for the rest of the plot, once you get past the simplistic sexual stereotypes, it’s believable enough. And the ending is definitely not predictable. (But the end is far too quick-wrap-up, with Shayne giving a “and that’s that” dust-off of his hands.) So as far as a detective mystery goes, it’s a-OK.

Other than the gender stereotypes, references to sedans and coupes (car terms you know but are hardly used today), there is only one other way the novel is dated. And that’s on page 18, where an “attractive colored girl” is seen down the hotel hallway, refreshingly juxtaposed with the “chubby cheeked” bag boy with a “long sharp nose” whose color is not mentioned (and so presumed colorless — or “white”), and so we’ve skipped at least a “Yessum!” stereotype of the black bag boy.

Given how sexist the rest of the book is, I was, after resettling my hackles from the “colored girl” reference, rather pleasantly surprised.

If one can forgive the brief appearance of antiquated race terms (and subtle racism created by the omission of other black characters) and laugh at the portrayal of Mike & his “babes”, it’s a sound little Twinkie of a read.


The Homicidal Virgin, a Mike Shayne Mystery, is credited as written by Brett Halliday, originally a pen name of Davis Dresser. I have the 1967 “New Edition” published by Dell — the original is copyrighted 1960 — but the novel was not written by Dresser because Dresser gave up writing the Shayne novels in 1958. (Bookish types can find out more about ghost writers, film & television etc. at ThrillingDectective.com.)

You can find more Mike Shayne covers by McGinnis here.