Title: The Crime at Black Dudley
Author: Margery Allingham
Publication Date: 7 May 2015
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
‘Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light’ – Agatha Christie
A suspicious death and a haunted family heirloom were not advertised when Dr George Abbershaw and a groupof London’s brightest young things accepted an invitation to the mansion of Black Dudley.
Skulduggery is most certainly afoot, and the party-goers soon realise that they’re trapped in the secluded house.
Amongst them is a stranger who promises to unravel the villainous plots behind their incarceration – but can George and his friends trust the peculiar young man who calls himself Albert Campion?
Thank you to Dead Good Books for sending me a copy of The Crime at Black Dudley for review.
The Crime at Black Dudley was first published in 1929 by Jarrolds in the UK and Doubleday Doran in the US. It has been re-released by Vintage Books as part of their plan to bring the complete series of Albert Campion books back into print.
This is my first Albert Campion mystery and, indeed, my first vintage mystery read. I was concerned that I would find the book too slow or too dated, after reading more modern day crime thrillers, however I found that I really enjoyed the change of pace with The Crime at Black Dudley.
The book starts at a house party at Black Dudley, a large, un-modernised and secluded country house owned by Mr Wyatt Petrie. The guests are an odd bunch invited there for the weekend by Petrie and his elderly uncle-by-marriage, Colonel Gordon Coombe. As they are playing a silly after-dinner game in the dark, recreating the ritual of the Black Dudley dagger, things take a sinister turn and the Colonel dies. Mr Abbershaw is asked to sign a cremation certificate, however he suspects foul play. The situation escalates with removal of the body, a missing item of importance and the guests being held hostage by a motley gang of crooks! Will they be able to raise the alarm before the all meet a grisly end? And exactly what did happen to the Colonel?
The book is said to introduce Margery Allingham’s “misleadingly vapid detective”, Albert Campion, who stars in a further 18 novels from the same author (information taken from Wikipedia). I was surprised by this as, for me, the book centered around pathologist, George Abbershaw, the protagonist of the piece, whereas Campion plays much more of a minor role, albeit one of the bigger supporting roles to Abbershaw.
I have read that Allingham initially intended Abbershaw to be the star of her future novels, however Campion naturally developed into a more memorable character and became the unwitting hero of her following novels. I can believe this as the book is certainly written in such a way as to suggest that Abbershaw is intend to be the continuing character, however to me he is a bit too nice and bland to be a continuing hero. In my mind, Campion is certainly the more interesting of the two characters, albeit still not a traditional hero with his falsetto voice and dodgy ways. We learn that he comes from an illustrious family but uses a number of aliases and is a member of one of London’s most exclusive clubs, leading me to suspect that maybe his is the illegitimate son of someone high-ranking in society. I’m interested to read the next of Allingham’s books in the series to see if any more light is shed on Campion’s background. However, for the purpose of this book, Abbershaw and Campion work well together to try to solve the mystery and get themselves and their fellow guests out of danger.
The guest list for the house party includes: newly-qualified Dr Michael Prenderby, the Colonel’s doctor White Whitby, redhead beauty Meggie Oliphant, shifty Gideon, the expressionless Benjamin Dawlish, Anne Edgeware, Martin Watt, Jeanne Dacre and a host of other servants and supporting characters. I found the character development to be slightly uneven, with some of the characters being highly developed and others being rather two-dimensional, however this seemed to work for this particular book and, for me, did not detract from the story.
The story is a good old-fashioned whodunit – a murder mystery with a sense of adventure and the obligatory twist at the end. I liked the addition of secret passages and the crazy servant lady locked in a room, this helped to create a real air of suspense and mystery. For a thriller, the Crime at Black Dudleyis actually surprisingly light-hearted, speckled with dashes of humour, most often coming from the clever characterisation of the leading characters. There is a sparkle of wit pushing through from Allingham and I am interested to see if her later novels also contain that same subtle mix of wit and humour.
I did find that whilst I correctly guessed who the murderer was, towards the end, however I must admit that I find myself somewhat confused still as to the motive for the murder.
Overall, Allingham has written an enjoyable and atmospheric, if somewhat unbelievable, murder mystery. I am interested to read more of her offerings in order to see how her style changes in the later books and how Albert Campion develops as the protagonist for those later stories.
About the Author
Margery Allingham was born in Ealing, London in 1904 to a family immersed in literature. Her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick, was published in 1923 when she was 19. Her first work of detective fiction was a serialized story published by the Daily Express in 1927. Entitled The White Cottage Mystery, it contained atypical themes for a woman writer of the era. Her breakthrough occurred in 1929 with the publication of The Crime at Black Dudley. This introduced Albert Campion, albeit originally as a minor character. He returned in Mystery Mile, thanks in part to pressure from her American publishers, much taken with the character. Campion proved so successful that Allingham made him the centrepiece of another 17 novels and over 20 short stories, continuing into the 1960s.