A few years ago we were looking to book a last-minute ‘cottage holiday’ in the UK. It was less than 6 weeks before we wanted to go and our only criteria was that it should be near the sea, have wi-fi and be within about 3 or 4 hours drive. Being that flexible meant that there was no problem finding a property and we soon decided on a flat above the yacht club in Brightlingsea in Essex. I don’t think I’d been to Essex before and when we said we were going quite a few people looked a bit puzzled. Anyway we got to Brightlingsea and had a lovely holiday enjoying a flat with views and the wealth of things to do in the area. But, whilst we were there I was quite powerfully reminded of a book that I had once read, but which I couldn’t remember the title.
And so began a two and a bit year quest to refind the book. I googled it several times over that time and I flicked through books at home, in the library or bookshops. I don’t mean that I was looking all the time, but I kept an eye out and I found it a touch frustrating that I couldn’t remember its title. Then I came across it when I wasn’t looking for it really. I’ve been reading a book a month through the Amazon Prime library. The choice is a bit limited and I haven’t been able to borrow the latest titles, but I have discovered that there are a good number of queens of crime novels to choose from and I’ve been working my way through Patricia Wentworth’s oeuvre, but I’d exhausted all the novels available that didn’t feature Miss Silver (I started reading Miss Silver novels a few years ago and needed to consult my library account to see where I was up to and that involved logging onto the computer), so I had a look at Margery Allingham instead.
Now I had a good idea that the book I’d been looking for was a Margery Allingham, but my searches of ‘Campion’ ‘ bell rang by stone’ and ‘smugglers routes from London to Essex’ hadn’t yielded anything in the past. In fact, the book that kept coming up was the Lord Peter Wimsey novel The Nine Tailors, which I knew wasn’t it, but I’d taken the opportunity to reread recently. It turned out that I’d got it wrong about the bell, it wasn’t a bell but a weather vane and that was what caused the internet searching problem. I came across Cargo of Eagles and realised immediately that it was the book I’d been looking for.
Cargo of Eagles is the very last Campion book and it was unfinished when Margery Allingham died in 1966. It was completed by her husband, from her detailed plans after her death. It isn’t her best novel I don’t think, but it does powerfully suggest a sense of place. The book features an older Campion at the end of his career, and unlike earlier books he takes a backseat in the investigation of this case. Campion acts with a young American, Morty Kelsey, and his love interest, an attractive young doctor taking the lead. The lady doctor has just inherited a country house in the seaside town of Saltey and the American is researching the history of Saltey. The town has quite a history of smuggling and most of the inhabitants come from families that have lived there for generations, but Saltey’s sleepy existence is disturbed at weekends by teenage gangs. In fact, it seems a little strange to encounter motorcycle gangs in a queen of crime novel, but it was written in the 1960s.
I’m so pleased I’ve been able to find Cargo of Eagles and reread it. I can see myself working my way through the other Campion novels next as this book has resparked my interest in them.