Reviving a beloved hero is no easy task. Just ask Mike Ripley: his novel Mr. Campion’s Fox, out earlier this month, is the second book he’s written featuring the beloved sleuth that Margery Allingham introduced in 1929. Ripley, an unabashed Allingham fan, may have fallen into the gig, but he certainly didn’t take it lightly.
As it happens, Ripley is not the first author after Allingham to step into Albert Campion’s shoes. Following Allingham’s death in 1966, her husband, Phillip Youngman Carter, continued the series; he published two Campion novels, the first of which, Mr. Campion’s Falcon, was released in 1970. Carter started another Campion novel but only wrote four chapters before he died. Ripley didn’t know that the unfinished work existed until 2010, when he was invited to speak at the Margery Allingham Society’s annual convention.
The manuscript was left to Allingham’s sister and, after her death, came under the supervision of the Allingham estate. Ripley was told that no one after Carter had tried to finish the book—known among the Society members as Mr. Campion’s Swan Song—because it was simply too difficult.
Ripley read the short work and immediately recognized the setting, a fictional wool town in Suffolk, as a place called Lavenham. He also recognized what Carter might have been trying to build: a story structured around the ancient wool trade. “I thought, I can have a go at finishing this,” Ripley says. “And [the estate] said, ‘Yeah, if you’re crazy enough, go ahead.’ And I did.”
The result, Mr. Campion’s Farewell, was published last summer and received strong reviews. Ripley says his goal with that book was to leave as much of Carter’s work intact as possible, but he also wanted to bring some of Allingham’s humor back to the series. “[Carter] wasn’t as funny a writer as his wife,” Ripley says. “He was more thriller writer than detective writer. So I wanted to keep his pace as an homage to him, but re-inject the Allingham humor [that was a hallmark of] her books.”
That goal continues with Mr. Campion’s Fox, which Ripley was happy to craft entirely from the ground up. In the novel, a favor Campion is doing for the Danish Ambassador turns into a murder investigation.
With his self-effacing nature, and his ability to blend into situations with the aristocracy as well as the common folk, Campion is a character Ripley enjoys writing. And, although trying to continue Allingham’s work has been nerve-racking, it remains an honor.
Ripley says he sheepishly admitted to his first editor, who also happened to have edited Allingham, that he prefers Allingham to Christie. Her response? “She said, ‘Oh God, so did I.’” Although Allingham never achieved the level of sales that Christie did, Allingham was, in Ripley's eyes, the better writer.
“[Allingham] was so much fun," Ripley says. "Christie was great with plots, but Allingham was just a joy to read; [the books come off] as if she really enjoyed writing them.” And, for that reason, Ripley hopes that Mr. Campion’s Farewell and Mr. Campion’s Fox can create more Allingham fans. “The greatest thanks, or praise, [I could receive] is that [my books] send someone back to read hers.”