Needing a break from "serious reading", I have just (re)read Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds, which is from the golden age of English crime writing, set in the fragile, glitzy society of the 1930s. This isn't her masterwork, by any means, but its a rattling a good yarn with some very good writing and some serious observation of the decay and danger beneath the glamour. Her characters are never wholly real, but they are complex, impulsive and believable beings, not at all cardboard (as, say, Ngaio Marsh's can sometimes be).
The milieu is very much that of Marsh, and while I enjoy Roderick Alleyn's elegant detective work, Allingham and Campion have the upper hand in terms of writing and drama. The blood is redder, the action quicker, the psychology surer. One fine example of her language and her grasp of motivation is an elderly woman's comment on a self absorbed and dandyish man working in a fashion house: "Rex is not quite a lady", a perfectly filthy remark from a grande dame of the old order.
The Fashion in Shrouds is the story of a silly but beautiful actress who has two lovers disappear or die on her in the space of a few years, and stars Albert Campion - looking stupid but very clever (why does that appeal to me, I wonder?) and his melancholic and vulgar butler Lugg, late of H M P Parkhurst, as well as his sister Val and his early love, Amanda (who he met in Sweet Danger). There is a rich cast of wonderful characters from theatre and fashion, and the action moves along smartish. The end is not at all telegraphed, and while the tale is fantastic, it's internally pretty consistent and satisfying.
This is not Tiger in the Smoke or Sweet Danger, but its very good. If you like Marsh, you'll love this.