I love Margery Allingham's books, and was thrilled to find this performance by Francis Matthews. Many years ago, in cassette tape days, my local library had several Allingham books read by Matthews, and to me he remains THE Albert Campion.
I had never listened to this particular book, however, and while I don't regret buying it, it isn't up to par. First, the book itself is overworked. Allingham's prose here is uncharacteristically labored. She seems to be trying SO hard to make all of her ideas about her characters SO clear that she bogs down repeatedly. The plot is fine, but many of the sentences and paragraphs are just this side of tortuous.
That would make it harder to perform. On top of that, Matthews himself isn't quite with us. I know very little about him, but to be frank, he sounds either ill or slightly lubricated through the first few chapters, which is as far as I've gotten at this time. I suspect illness because he seems consistently sub. There's no bounce to his reading, he doesn't parse out all of the sentences as well as he should even granting that some of them are clunky, and Campion's voice sounds like an impression of a strangely old David Niven.
His style here wasn't his norm. I have a good aural memory and a ferociously abiding interest in British actors, and I remember the sound of Matthews at his best. I'm hoping he'll recover his mojo as the book progresses.
Good points: while there are disappointing elements, this version isn't a disaster, and it's unabridged. Despite my comments about the syntax of this particular novel, I will never listen to abridged Allingham. She wrote too well for her books to be butchered. Remember to listen to the sample if you're on the fence.
I dearly hope that Audible will restore Matthews' other Allingham readings to commerce. I wound up buying a few of them at library sales way back when. They were the only reason I ever regretted getting rid of our last cassette player.
Listening to this, I keep thinking that Catherine Tate must be one wicked party guest. First, she's an excellent reader in general, clear and well-paced. Second, she is an incredible voice mimic. She can't always produce David-Tennant-as-the-10th-Doctor's tone of voice (sometimes the way she lowers her pitch to delineate him sounds slightly odd), but she precisely duplicates every nuance of his delivery. In fact, she mimics Tennant better than he mimics her...as the Doctor-Donna would triumphantly remark, "HA!"
And of course she knows how to speak as Donna Noble, so no problems there. There are various minor characters; each one is distinct and interesting.
The story itself is solid. The dialogue is snappy, and the vibe is pure Doctor Who. When the performance is this top-notch I don't mind some narrative lapses, but this tale is coherent and presents a nice variety of scenes that build on each other and hold my interest in their own right. This is Doctor Who, folks - if you want Dostoevsky or Stephen Hawking or some perfect and glorious combination of the two, go to another section. (Or better still - write your own, and dazzle us mere mortals.) Many of the story threads are derivative of other DW scenarios, but when it's mixed-and-matched to this degree and done this well, it's part of the fun. (Anyway - try coming up with something completely original in Doctor Who after nearly 50 years.) Plus, I loved the overall concept.
I'll be able to listen to this multiple times without getting tired of it. Very glad to have it.
Report Inappropriate Content