Going for the Golden: “Flowers for the Judge”

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In Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham, the members of the Barnabus family publishing house ask family friend Albert Campion to help them because Paul Brande, the middle of the three partner cousins, disappeared three days earlier. They aren’t worrying enough to call in the police because he has taken off without advanced notice before, though not usually this long. In addition, 20 years earlier, his older cousin Thomas Barnabus disappeared into thin air, to the witness of a newsman and a beat cop, never to be heard from again. Things change a couple days later when a secretary of the publisher goes downstairs to the strong room and finds Paul’s body. The doctor declares that Paul has been dead for days, but Mike Wedgwood, the youngest cousin, just went downstairs the day before. Why did he not see the body then? Then police find a hose that was used to pump carbon monoxide from Mike’s car into the room where Peter was found, definitely making this murder. These already suspicious circumstances, plus the knowledge that Gina Brande intended to ask Paul for a divorce on the very night he disappeared, being in love with Mike, cause the jury at the inquest to indict Mike for murder.

With the certainty that Mike did not commit this crime, Campion goes to work to both prove Mike’s innocence and find the real killer. He is assisted by Ritchie Barnabus, the somewhat simple-minded younger brother of Thomas Barnabus, the man who disappeared 20 years earlier. Campion’s other cohort is his manservant, Lugg, a former burglar proud of both his past achievements and the rise in station he has made under Campion.

Flowers for the Judge was my second introduction to Margery Allingham, with The Crime at Black Dudley, Allingham’s introduction to Campion, being my first book by her. I was decidedly unimpressed by the first book, but this book was a dramatic departure from that one. It contains a fascinating plot, considered a classic “locked room mystery,” since the murdered man was found dead inside the strong room. Reviews of the book online focus on the romance plot as being significant to the book, with the two lovers having to undergo a trial by fire in order to be together. Personally, I did not find the romance plot to be any more significant than those found in the writings of the other queens of mystery: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Perhaps it is unusual for Allingham, something I would not have personal knowledge of.

I do not understand the title, and performing a Google search didn’t serve to enlighten me much. At the end of the trial, the judge in the case carries his flowers out of the courtroom, which only one site I found mentions, pointing out that the aroma of the flowers can’t overcome the bad smell of the justice system. But where did these flowers come from, especially since I didn’t notice a reference to flowers earlier? Is there a tradition in the British judicial system involving flowers? Why does the title of the book reference just one obscure line in the book?

The characters in Flowers for the Judge are generally fleshed out well. Actually, Campion seems to be one of the least developed characters in the book, although I gather that over the course of the series, Campion becomes full and round. As for the other characters, even though we never meet Peter alive, we get a strong image of him, and he is not a nice person. Gina, despite being in love with a man not her husband in 1936, when she could not get a divorce without proof of abuse, is the sympathetic woman waiting for her man, who is on trial. The barrister, Cousin Alexander, was a real delight, especially as he reverts back and forth between his courtroom voice and casual voice.

The good guy in the book with the profound statements is the eccentric Ritchie, who speaks in abbreviated sentences. He makes a profound statement about the people who allow society to define them and control their movements, comparing such people to the people in the prison who can’t eat on their own or drink on their own but only when allowed. The truly free are those who have managed to break away from the chains of society and do their own thing.

The audio edition of this book is performed by David Thorpe, who does a good job with certain parts and a less effective job with others. I liked his female voices and the way he voices Ritchie. However, the squeaky voice used for the role of Albert Campion really annoyed me. Otherwise, I felt that Thorpe did a reasonable but not excellent job on this book.

I really appreciated listening to Flowers for the Judge. The book had a strong mystery plot with well- rounded characters. I am glad that I took the advice of other lovers of golden age mystery and gave Allingham another chance. I give this book five stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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