I have only read one other Albert Campion novel, and that was so long ago that all I can remember is not having much of a sense of Campion. I can say the same thing after reading this novel, although it has other qualities. Perhaps one can only get an understanding of Campion through reading the series.
In this post-World War II novel, we get a feel for the effect of the war on London. The wealthier households no longer have servants, shoddy neighborhoods have sprung up near where service men used to gather, the ruins of bombed buildings are everywhere, as are groups of unemployed veterans. To this setting Allingham adds the further atmosphere of a heavy fog that persists over the course of the novel. This fog is vividly described and is almost a character in the novel.
Meg Elginbrodde, a young war widow, has recently announced her betrothal to Geoffrey Levett, a wealthy businessman. Beginning directly after the announcement, however, Meg receives poor-quality street photographs of someone who looks like her husband, Martin Elginbrodde, supposedly blown to bits during a battle. No message has arrived explaining these photos, and when we meet the engaged couple, Geoffrey is dropping Meg off for a rendezvous that Campion has arranged as a trap for the culprit.
Meg is to walk into the train station to meet the man, where Campion and the police will capture him. However, when Meg sees the man at a distance, his resemblance to Martin is so strong that she shouts his name and runs toward him, startling him away. Campion eventually captures him, and Meg is embarrassed and puzzled to find that close up, the man doesn’t look like Martin at all. He turns out to be a low-level criminal named Duds Morrison.
Campion and Detective Charlie Luke are fairly confident that someone hired Duds for the impersonation, but what was it meant to accomplish? Duds isn’t talking; in fact, he seems terrified, and rightly so. Within an hour of his release, he is found stabbed to death in an alley.
Campion notices one thing that helped Meg mistake Duds for her husband. He is wearing Martin’s distinctive coat. When Campion repairs to the unusual household of old Canon Avril, Meg’s father and Campion’s uncle, to investigate, he finds the coat was recently in the house. How could it have fallen into the imposter’s hands?
Soon the police find a connection between this case and the escape from jail of a very dangerous man, who calls himself John Havoc. Havoc murdered an eminent physician to escape and subsequently killed three people trying to break into the law office that handled Martin Elginbrodde’s estate. He did not escape, though, early enough to have killed Duds.
In the meantime, Geoffrey Levett is missing.
The plot of this novel, like many of those from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, is absurd. However, the novel is notable for its strong and vivid characterizations—of one of fiction’s first sociopaths as well as of the many unusual and delightful characters living in Canon Avril’s house. Campion himself remains a quiet character instead of being a presence such as Lord Peter Wimsey or any of Christie’s detectives.