Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley


Oh, good grief, can you say repetitive, redundant and stuffed with filler?  There is a story in there somewhere in this book, but by the time of the main characters’ third (re)capture at the hands of the bad guys and subsequent failed escape attempt I’d essentially forgotten — and stopped to care — what the book’s actual murder mystery was supposed to be concerned with.  If the whole kidnapping thing was in service of misdirection, then Ms. Allingham managed to direct me clean out of the book … or she would have, if it hadn’t been for David Thorpe, whose narration makes the most of the novel’s characters and is the only reason this audiobook ever even (barely) cleared the 2 star mark on my radar.  Even aside from the obvious filler and repetitiveness, the story is flat-out ridiculous (even more so than that of Look to the Lady, and that is decidedly not one of my favorite Campion books, either) — the Golden Age mystery reading public must have been one forgiving sort of readership if Ms. Allingham was able to build a career as a mystery writer on the basis of this particular book.  If I hadn’t already read other books from the series and thus didn’t know that the quality of the plots actually did improve later on, this first book certainly would not have been an incentive for me to continue with the series at all.

That said, knowing that Albert Campion wasn’t the star of the book I was surprised to see him being given more stage time than I had expected, and next to Mr. Thorpe’s narration he was one of this book’s saving graces for me; even though he is decidedly more of a cipher than in the later books, and even though the one voice I didn’t care for in this audio version was Campion’s, of all things.

Final note: Not even the cover of this audio recording is correct — the murder weapon is a dagger, not poison or something else being imbibed.  Oh well.  Onwards and upwards from here, I suppose!

0 thoughts on “Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley

  1. Uh, oh. I had this one on my list of potential reads for this year’s HW Bingo. I’ve never read Allingham and thought I’d give her books a shot (I couldn’t get into Tiger in the Smoke when I tried a couple of years ago.)

    1. Don’t, by all that’s holy, start with this one. It’s not even a Campion novel, properly speaking, as Allingham had been planning to use a different character (who vanishes after this book, never to resurface again) as her main detective. Campion himself is no more than a cipher here, but Allingham’s editor liked his few appearances so well nevertheless that he pushed Allingham into developing him into the series detective instead.

      The first really decent novel of the series is book #4, “Police at the Funeral”, which is a rather amusing country house mystery. Books 2 and 3 (“Mystery Mile” and “Sweet Danger”) are better than “Crime at Black Dudley”, but that is hardly an accomplishment, and Allingham clearly was still finding her Campion feet there; as a result of which, all three first books have essentially the same type of plot — a treasure hunt with arch-villain attachment.

      If you do decide to start the series with an early book, make it No. 3, “Sweet Danger”; if for no other reason that this is where Campion meets the lady who will make recurring appearances in the series. But “Crime at Black Dudley”, by rights, should be scratched from the series altogether, on a whole range of grounds. And it definitely shouldn’t be the first book anyone reads — this is strictly a “completists only” item.

    2. As for “Tiger in the Smoke”, I can’t blame you. It’s actually one of my favorite entries, but it’s definitely not a good place to start, either, because it relies on a LOT of underlying facts and details that you have to be aware of in order to be able to make sense of it (and the tone of the writing has changed a lot vis-à-vis the earlier novels at this point).

  2. Isn’t this the title everyone mentions when they mention Allingham’s legacy? She’s have lost me after the second kidnapping; honestly, once is unfortunate, twice is carelessness. 3 times??

    1. Yes, I’m pretty sure even Lady Bracknell would have been stumped for a put-down on that one … :~

      The only context in which I’m hearing “The Crime at Black Dudley” being mentioned is that it’s the unintentional starting point of the Campion series … ?

      1. Maybe that’s what I’m thinking of then. I just always see this title popping up but obviously never paid much attention to why. I’ve only read one of her books so far, “The White Cottage Mystery”, which I liked in spite of itself (mostly for the ending). I have Death of a Ghost on the TBR to read at some point.

        1. “Death of a Ghost“ is a great book to start Campion with. It‘s one of the best installments in the series, and it‘s still early enough for there not to be too much innuendo between Campion and his sidekicks that would pass over a newbie‘s head. (There is some, but IIRC nothing that is completely and utterly baffling.). And as I said elsewhere, both the mystery and most of the“guest stars“ are just great.

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