The Crime At Black Dudley Paperback – 1960
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The Crime At Black Dudley
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Indeed, much of the action is told from the point of view of Dr George Abbershaw, one of the guests of a weekend party at the house of Colonel Gordon Coombe, whose nephew, Wyatt Petrie, organises groups of young people to visit and amuse his uncle. The house is a somewhat forbidding setting for a party, but Abbershaw is more interested in a young lady called Margaret Oliphant than the location. Still, romantic considerations aside, there are a mix of guests, including a keen Cambridge rugger blue, a young doctor, a couple of rather sinister guests of the Colonel and a ‘silly ass’ called Albert Campion, who nobody seems to have invited…
When Petrie tells of a family ritual involving the fifteenth century ‘Black Dudley Dagger,’ the guests agree to play along and, when the lights come back on, it seems that there has been a tragedy. Worst still, the Colonel’s rather unpleasant, and unfriendly, guests, claim to have lost something of great importance and, if it is not returned, there will be consequences. Despite appearing as a rather inoffensive, unintelligent character, Campion turns out to be very useful in the following crisis, as the guests find themselves prisoners in the isolated house, unable to escape. However, this actually turns out to be a murder mystery, wrapped in a tale of criminal gangs. Overall, I am glad I read this first book and would certainly like to read on and discover more about Albert Campion.
A house party at an ancient mansion develops a macabre twist when the uncle of the host is murdered, and the older guests turn out to be a horribly stereotypical German criminal mastermind and his henchmen, out to retrieve a priceless missing document. The novel pursues a series of exciting adventures as the younger guests attempt to escape, including rambles through secret passages and the like. There are two very notable characters, Mrs Meade - a yokel with religious mania who locks herself in a room for days waiting for the bad guys to meet their fate at the hands of her belligerent son, and Albert Campion - originally introduced to add a touch of whacky humour but he imposes himself on the plot to such an extent that Allingham's American publishers virtually insisted that he should feature in future novels. Amen to that! The actual main character of this novel, Abbershaw - a freelance pathologist, was intended to be the hero in subsequent works, but he is dull, dull, dull!
Even in this early work, the quality of Allingham's prose shines through - later acknowledged by the great American realist crime writer Raymond Chandler - who was highly critical of the formulaic technique of Christie, for example. My main criticism of this novel is in the motivation of the killer. This implies a sort of brain-washing that simply would not work, and is more the product of an intellectual snobbery prevalent in many of the British middle-classes before the great leveller that was WW II. To Allingham's credit, I can't think of a later Campion novel where this is the case - probably helped by the introduction of Lugg. Similar thoughtlessness is endemic in much of the work of Christie (even after WW II) and, to a lesser extent, in some of Dorothy L. Sayer's offerings.
All in all, a good read and a taste of much greater things to come.
In this book Albert is part of a very strange house party at a house called Black Dudley in the Suffolk countryside. It is clear from the start that there is something odd about the house party and a haunted dagger is the least of the strange things encountered by the group of young people gathered at the remote mansion. Soon they discover that they cannot escape and their only hope is to trust Campion.
This is not a conventional Golden Age crime novel so if you're looking for a crime novel with an amateur detective and an interesting puzzle to solve you won't find it here. That is probably why I'm not keen on it. The villain seems more a Victorian stage villain and I really couldn't believe in him so I probably didn't feel the tension and the terror which I might have expected to experience when reading this book. If the Campion series are the sort of books you enjoy then don't let me put you off but if you like your crime novels conventional then you need to look at reading authors such as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh or Dorothy L Sayers.
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I loved this book. Want to read more.
Invited to a party at Black Dudley the guests find out about a ritual whereby The Black Dudley dagger, used to murder a...Read more
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