Margery Allingham’s ‘Mystery Mile’: ‘Deathly Hallows’ Embedded Text?

Mystery Mile is a Margery Allingham thriller featuring Albert Campion in his first leading role. If you want the plot, the whole story really, there is a servicable telling of the tale on the book’s Wikipedia page. There is a reason, however, that Rowling has said Allingham was her favorite writer of the so-called Four Queens of Crime — Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh were the others — and reading her work, as we’ve seen before with The Tiger in the Smoke, as often as not gives you a name or two that Rowling lifts (Johnny Cash!), a plot point or twist, or something as important as the psychopathology of Lord Voldemort.

Without spoiling the story of Mystery Mile, I think I can say now ‘where’ and ‘from whom’ Rowling found a model for her Tales of Beedle the Bard embedded text in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Mile story turns on the secret identity of the leader of Simister (that’s not a typo), an international criminal organization, a gangster extraordinaire reputed to be more than one hundred years old. A retired judge learns a clue to the mafioso’s name is hidden in a children’s book but even the best cryptographers of the FBI and of Scotland Yard cannot break the code.

Albert Campion, of course, solves the puzzle in the text after a quick look at the Table of Contents.

How many stories do you know that feature a kid’s book with an embedded text, the book being embedded in the text as a mirror of our own attempts to figure out who the bad guy is from the clues we’ve been given? Me, too. Just one.

This is early Allingham and not one of my favorites. I hope you’ll give it a read even so and let me know what you make of the children’s book key that unlocks this mystery and how it compares to Beedle‘s role inside Deathly Hallows.

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