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Black Dudley Murder Paperback – June, 1976
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|Paperback, June, 1976||
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To Albert Campion has fallen the honour of being the first detective to feature in a story which is also by any standard a distinguished novel Observer Margery Allingham is notable for the energy and inventiveness of her writing -- P. D. James Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light -- Agatha Christie --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Margery Allingham is one of the grand dames of British mystery fiction, usual ranked with Sayers, Marsh and Christie. Pretty heady company!! Allingham has, for the most part, a lighter style than the others. Her hero, Campion has much in common with Lord Peter, but he lacks Whimsey's total perfection and flaunts his heritage (and education) a bit less. Initially cast as a 'zany', he has a great deal of fun in him. In later novels he will gradually mature into a genuinely remarkable character.
The Black Dudley Murder was the first novel in which Campion appears. Written in 1928 when she was 23 (and just recently married) the book is quite a bit different from later volumes. Campion is only sketched in. While an important character, he is by no means the central hero of the plot. And the story is very youth oriented, composed primarily of post-war (WW I) youth vs. villainous older male criminals. The first time I read this book I was of an age with the younger half of the cast. It was something of a shock to read it when I had more in common with the crooks.
The plot is the purest of British mystery confections. A group of young folk are invited to a gloomy, desolate mansion for a week-end frolic as the request of the uncle of one of their number. During a strange game of hide and seek played with an ancient dagger the uncle is murdered. Campion has wormed his way into the party to recieve a set of plans from the old man, which he promptly misplaces, only to have them destroyed by the real protagonist of the book George Abbershaw. One of the uncles compatriots turns out to be a German master criminal. He wants the plans very badly. badly enough to take the young folks prisoner and demand that they turn over the documents or else. To complicate matters more, Abbershaw has destroy the plans in a fit of what can only be described as British ethicality.
Without fail, the plot thickens. Before the book is over you will have crawled through endless secret passages, been rescued by a fox hunt, and chased a cleverly disguised Rolls Royce across England. There is perhaps a little too much silliness going on, but I have begun to suspect that Allingham is pulling our legs straight thru the somewhat melodramatic ending.
All in all a good read. Certainly The Black Dudley Murder is not Allingham's best, but it foreshadows many of the novels to come. In her early work Allingham has a bright and distinctive approach to the problems and pleasures of the young men and women of post-war Britain. This gave her a tremendous and well deserved readership that grew up along with her and her erratic hero. Seventy years later she is still wonderful entertainment!
'The Crime at Black Dudley' is not, however, among the best of Allingham’s books. For one thing, Campion is not the main character; Dr. Abbershaw is, and I don’t find him as interesting as Campion himself.
In typical Allingham fashion, the plot is convoluted and somewhat fantastic (in the “elaborate and not quite real” sense of the word), but it works a little less well here than in some of the other books ('Mystery Mile', for instance.) Criminal gangs headed by ruthless masterminds, a murder with a famous dagger during a house party – it reads like a pastiche of Ngaio Marsh ('A Man Lay Dead'), Agatha Christie, and a sensational pulp-crime novel, but Allingham’s distinctive narrative voice manages to tie it together. Eccentricity and the fantastical are hallmarks of Allingham’s mysteries; it seems to me that in The Crime at Black Dudley she was just beginning to feel her way toward her mature style.
I’m never totally satisfied when the solution relies on various confessions, as is the case here, and the murder motive itself seems both far-fetched and barely tied in to the events of the main portion of the novel. All in all, I’m giving the book 3 of 5 stars – I’m glad to have read the first Campion novel, but I probably won’t reread it.
If you’ve never read any Campion mysteries, I recommend starting with any of the following, all of which I’ve enjoyed: 'Look to the Lady' (also published as 'The Gyrth Chalice Mystery'), 'Death of a Ghost', 'Sweet Danger', 'Dancers in Mourning', or the superlative 'Flowers for the Judge'. They can be read in almost any order.
NOTE: This review was originally published on my blog, The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
Albert Campion is introduced as a rather obnoxious playboy with no apparent reason for existence. A rambling story of a weekend house party cum assassination plot. One star is more than enough.