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Published in 1929, this is the first Albert Campion mystery. My introduction to Campion came through a later book and, disliking reading books out of order, I found that a confusing and difficult read. However, as I enjoy Golden Age detective fiction, I determined to give Margery Allingham another try and to read the first in the series – even though I know that the book has mixed reactions. In a way, that is because this is not a traditional mystery; it has a story set in a traditional country weekend, but then descends into something of a romp concerning criminal gangs, secret passages and only has Albert Campion as a minor character.

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.
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on 2 May 2017
good fun, races along with good characters for a light-hearted read. Would now read more in this series.
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on 30 August 2015
I found this book to be a good holiday read.
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on 5 June 2012
This is the first of Allingham's wonderful Campion series. They are not really whodunnits a la Christie, but more adventure stories, even though many of them have a twist at the end - as does this one. Allingham's great gifts are a Dickensian ability with characterisation and scene-setting; evident, but not yet mature, in this early work. She also understands how to use dialogue to move the plot along, to develop character, and to build tension. Moreover, Allingham's dialogue is believable conversation, making allowances for when the books were written and the idiosyncracies of 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.
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on 14 April 2015
As much as I admire Margery Allingham's work, I must say I was surprised to find I had never read this book which is the first to feature Albert Campion. It was almost as if I could sense Allingham working out the boundaries she wanted to set for Albert. I'm very glad that she expanded those boundaries considerably in later books because this character stays a little too much in the background throughout this entire piece.

The classic setting of a weekend at a remote country estate is the centerpiece for the vast majority of the action here with the necessary collection of brilliant young people who simply show up on the doorstep and expect to be accommodated and entertained. It turns out that nobody really knows anybody else all that well so when a murder is discovered each character stands a pretty good chance of being `it'. All really good country house mysteries must feature a great location and Black Dudley satisfies that requirement completely. Not only does everybody have to figure out who they can really trust, but they also have to decide if these criminal types, who seem to have taken over the house, are actually who and what they say they are.

Once again a rousing good time provided by Mrs. Allingham. Once again I choose to overlook the plot holes which I don't allow modern authors. I have very high double standards.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley.
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What could be better than a mixed bag of excitable party guests embarking on a game involving ritual dagger at the Black Dudley Mansion, who will continue to observe the impeccable manners expected from English society when things go a bit ‘Pete Tong’?

Aaah, welcome to the Golden Age of crime where sinister occurrences or the odd sudden death never prevent the timely bong of the dinner gong.

So then, this book is Albert Campion’s introduction as a party-goer-cum-inadvertent-sleuth. With a predisposition to convince everyone of his bumbling incompetence by mustering very little effort, Campion’s presence in his horn-rimmed spectacles complete with unnatural aloofness was unexpectedly comedic and intriguing.

He’s not typically masculine or heroic, speaks with a whine, performs occasional conjuring tricks, and has an odd way of getting to the point. In fact, he’s the most irritating person you could find yourself next to when the seating arrangements are being made. Still, for all his wacky train of thought, or apparent absence of it, he does provide invaluable assistance when least expected. I think that’s why I found Campion’s popularity flaw and eccentricity strangely refreshing.

I only wished he had more of a starring role as his investigative involvement throughout the evening’s proceedings was relatively insignificant. He was frequently overtaken by a more vocal and assertive guest in attendance, a Dr George Abbershaw. Although this is a ‘Campion Mystery’ it didn’t quite feel like he owned it.

Anyhow, if you will engage in extreme after dinner party games in an old property that bustles with secrets, where ‘peasants’ drop their aitches at a rate of a pantomime crook, you may find yourself prevented from making your polite excuses to saunter home as there are even more dark and dastardly deeds afoot than any dinner guest should be subjected to.

Oh, well. That peculiar Albert Campion knew it would all end in tears quite early on:

"All this running about in the dark with daggers doesn’t seem to me healthy."

Quite so. But good Lord, even he doesn’t know the half of it…

I’ll admit this ‘trapped house’ murder mystery was waaay more engaging than I’d expected it to be. I now find myself wanting to devour more books featuring this particular sleuth to see how his character develops. And that’s a major bonus as the art work on the covers in this series are enticingly vintage looking too – and I like that, A LOT!

(I am immensely grateful to have received a paperback copy of this book from the publisher in a Twitter giveaway they ran some time ago and thought it was about time I gave it a whirl – and I’m SO glad I did!)
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on 2 August 2002
A classic thriller set in the 1920s. Margery Allinghams fast paced country house mystery keep you guessing whodunnit until the last chapter. A weekend party turns into a murder hunt with criminal masterminds thrown in for good measure. A must read for anyone who is fed up with the sex and sleaze of modern thrillers.
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on 13 June 2015
Margery Allingham lacks the subtlety of Christie but has a theatrical charm about her plots with their air of 'boys own' adventure story mixed with a stiff-upper-lip-ness that results in a quaintly English mystery that twists and turns like the corridors and hidey-holes of Black Dudley Mansion itself. Characters like Inspector Pillow and Colonel Coombe serve to give this story overtones of Cluedo-esque mystery and our hero turns out to be most unexpected and is so loveable and idiotic in equal measure that he ends up both solving the mystery and going on to become the star of a series of books and most deservedly so, in my humble opinion. I like Margery Allinghams writing, it has humour and a vaudevillian style to its progress that results In a good but not too taxing read. Many of her contemporaries wrote, as was the custom of the time with such verbosity, that the words almost prevent the story from emerging but not so the case with Allingham who is worth a try if you haven 't yet taken the plunge.
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on 3 March 2016
The action takes place at a country house weekend party at Black Dudley. The story is told from the viewpoint of George Abbershaw who was invited down by Wyatt Petrie. A further cast of characters includes two foreigners and Dr Whitby who are aquainted with Wyatts uncle only and Albert Campion, hero of many Allingham books. After dinner the legend surrounding the Black Dudley Ritual Dagger is told and the houseguests decide to do the annual ritual that evening. The ritual involves putting out all the lights and passing around the dagger in a sort of hide and seek and relay race with the person left holding the dagger when the lights go up having to pay a forfeit. During the game Wyatt's uncle Colonel Coombe has a heart attack. It later transpires that he has died but Abbershaw suspects foul play. Maybe the rush to get a doctors signature, without seeing the body, for a cremation order and the secret removal of the body in the dead of the night by Dr Whitby lends itself to this conclusion. But where does the dagger come in and was there really blood on it the previous night when it was temporarily placed in Meggie's hands? The scene is set for an interesting mystery novel.
To my mind this could not really be called a Campion novel as he plays a small part and is not involved at the end for the unveiling of the killer. The dialogue was really good and the suspense kept up until just before the end. In the end there were two separate storylines to wrap up. The first which involved Dr Whitby and friends came to a reasonable conclusion but the second which involved the unmasking of the killer I found very difficult to grasp. I had guessed the killer but it was the reasoning which I found hard to fathom. My suggestion would be to enjoy the book for the sharp dialogue, the introduction of Campion and then just suspend belief at the end. Subsequent Campion books were much better but I still give it 4 stars.
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I haven’t read any of the author’s works before, but I will definitely be looking to read more. I picked this one up after reading in a work by Christopher Fowler (a Bryant and May mystery) of his view that Margery Allingham’s works were unfairly overlooked, and deserved more recognition. Born in 1904, Margery Allingham died in 1966, and her works are part of the ‘golden age’ of crime fiction. The Albert Campion series, of which this is the first one, consists of about 28 books, and she wrote other works as well.

This book is the first in the Albert Campion series, but it doesn’t really feature Albert Campion himself very much. It seems that the author had not intended him to be the main protagonist in a series, but her publishers liked the character and pushed her to use him as the main character in more books, so a background to Albert Campion was developed, and he became the focal point of a number of her continuing works. In this story, Albert appears first as a guest at a house party at Black Dudley, and seems at first to be a foppish and vapid young man, one of a number of guests in the house. The story focuses for much of the action on another guest, Dr George Abbershaw. Abbershaw, Campion, and a number of London’s brightest young things are invited to a house party at the mansion of Black Dudley, where Abbershaw’s friend Wyatt Petrie is host under his uncle Colonel Gordon Coombe. Other guests include some who Abbershaw knows, and some who are new to him, and there is a mix of types of people; an interesting weekend should ensue, Abbershaw thinks to himself. But little does he know that before the first evening is out, a sudden death will throw the party into some disarray, and from there things get darker and much, much more dangerous.

This is a wonderful book. Very much a product of its time (it was first published in 1929), the characters are all very well delineated in their social classes and culture. They speak, and indeed act in ways that are quite often rather odd to us from the distance of nearly a century, but throughout the book, the core values and mystery of the story ring very true. The story seems to start out as one where an unexplained death is going to be the core of all ongoing activities, but it very quickly turns into a much bigger and broader, and much more deadly story, with many twists and turns. Even when the story seems wrapped up, there are still threads which remain to be unravelled, and the anticipation and engagement for the reader remains until the last page.

A real delight to read, I am very glad to have discovered this new (to me) author, and look forward to working my way through the Albert Campion series, to start with.
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