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We are in Folly Beach, SC for a week over the holiday break, taking some time away from regular life to decompress and do a lot of nothing. The family exchanged Christmas gifts earlier this week, and my husband got me a couple of interesting memoirs (by Amy Tan and David Sedaris), but all I want to do this week is read familiar (and beloved) stuff.

So it was a total boss move for me to bring two of my favorite Margery Allingham novels with me on vacation. What are they, you say? No Love Lost and More Work for the Undertaker, both in trade paperback with old covers, both well-read, both fairly close to falling apart. I’ve already finished the former and am about one-third the way through the latter.

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No Love Lost was written in the early 1950s and is actually two separate long short stories (novellas?), only one of which is really a murder mystery. The first novella involves Dr. Ann Fowler, who is trapped by a twisted man into caring for her dying romantic rival; the second focuses on Elizabeth Lane, who opts for a safe marriage with a man she doesn’t love and becomes the prime suspect when he is murdered. They are terrific, suspenseful and finely detailed and plotted and romantic as all get-out.

More Work for the Undertaker features Allingham’s principal detective, Albert Campion, and takes place right after World War II, when everyone in Britain (including Campion) is trying to readjust to civilian life. In this book, Campion teams up with an up-and-coming Scotland Yard DI to figure out who is offing members of a brilliant but now impoverished family who now rent rooms in their ancestral mansion.

The mystery is, to put it bluntly, astonishing, and the writing is (as always with Allingham) first-rate. Case in point: this passage, from the beginning of the book when Campion first arrives at the mansion and is bringing a late-night tray to one of the brilliant family members:

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It’s writing like this, along with the ingenuity of the plot and the way Allingham sketches out her characters so beautifully and clearly, that bring me back to these books over and over again. Well, that and the familiarity, of course. Happy New Year!

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