Friday, 19 August 2011

Forgotten Book - The Crime at Black Dudley

Margery Allingham is widely regarded as one of the great British crime writers, but although I like her short stories, I’ve had mixed feelings about her novels. But I decided to give her another go, and my choice for today’s Forgotten Book is the 1929 novel in which Albert Campion made his debut, The Crime at Black Dudley.

In reading the book, it’s vital to remember that Allingham was only 23 when she wrote it. The story is breezy, and begins very well, with a pleasingly mysterious ritual in a country house, and murder being done in the dark. But after that, I’m afraid, things fall apart.

A sinister gang commanded by a nasty German hold the house party hostage, and I felt it all became rather silly and tedious. Only when we get back to the main plot do things improve, but vital information is withheld from the reader; it’s not really a fair play whodunit at all.

Campion is presented as almost a rogue. Allingham’s main focus is on a pathologist called Abbershaw, who does the main detective work. The real merit of this book for modern readers lies not in the story-line but in its historic interest, as the apprentice work of a very interesting and unpredictable writer.


J F Norris said...

Try as I might the charm of Albert Campion and Lugg is lost on me. I have tried a few novels and I never finished one of them. There is apparently an audience for these as they are big sellers in the Felony & Mayhem reprints. But I wish other far better mystery writers' books would be resurrected by the small press reprint houses. [Sorry, I didn't start that broken record again.]

Jodie Robson said...

It is a strange book but interesting to compare with the later Campion novels, I think. I listened last week to an interesting podcast on one of the later ones, The Estate of the Beckoning Lady, which is one of my favourites. The link, in case anyone is interested, is:
The speaker is an academic, but it's not a dry talk - there will be some new things to consider next time I read it.

Elizabeth Frengel said...

I felt sure I would love Margery Allingham, but the truth is that I thought just as you did when I read The Crime at Black Dudley. A good set-up that turns silly is just about right. I may give her short stories a try, however. Thanks for review.

seana graham said...

I think she is definitely someone who got (much) better as she went along. I think Tiger in the Smoke and some others from that era are terrific.

The early ones are pretty light, but she can write well even then.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Abbershaw was meant to be the hero - but Campion took over. ;-) Yes it's quite silly - but there are some good moments, Hitchcockian twists and an atmospheric ending. PS It's worth getting hold of her original version of Fashion in Shrouds - she cut and altered it for republication after the war. She thought it was too verbose - but you really need all the detail for the story to make sense.

J said...

Allingham had a long career, and I don't think any detective writer altered his/her main character in the course of a series as much as Albert Campion. (There is no difference between the Nero Wolfe of Fer-de-Lance and A Family Affair, not does Perry Mason really alter one jot.) Lord Peter Wimsey has a "real life" story as he goes through the books, but he doesn't *change* as much as Albert. He starts as the typical silly ass of the time, becomes a romantic figure and weds, and eventually becomes the less-active but still astute "universal uncle." I first read these in high school, but would like to give them another try (and see how fond I am of them this time around...)

Martin Edwards said...

Some very interesting points here.
John, I agree about neglected writers.
GCat, thanks for the link, I'll certainly check it out.
Seana, yes, fair comment; this was an apprentice work.
Richmonde, I didn't know about Fashion. Again something I must look into, thanks.
J, you are absolutely right on the way AC changes.