Margery Allingham - The Crime at Black Dudley
"...they certainly broke the mould after Campion was born!"
George Abbershaw and others are invited down to the country to Black Dudley Manor for a weekend by his friend, Wyatt Petrie. He owns the house after the death of his aunt, but allows his uncle by marriage, the wheelchair-bound, Colonel Coombe's to stay in the house he shared with his dead wife. Several times a year, young things like Abbershaw are invited down as it entertains the old Colonel.
On the first night, the legend of the Black Dudley dagger is told which leads to the lights being turned out and the dagger passed about. However, this leads to disastrous consequences as when the lights go up, Colonel Coombe's is found dead. His doctor in residence says the old man died of a heart attack, but did he? Soon the group, including one Albert Campion, are prisoners in Black Dudley by a gang of rogues looking for some mysterious papers. Soon the tables are turned and the group begin to fight back to survive.
This book had been out of print for many years, but now some clever-clogs in marketing has decided this title can be classed as the first Campion novel. However, I feel I need to disagree with this. Yes, it does feature Albert Campion, but here he has more of a supporting role than a starring one. The main role is given to Dr. George Abbershaw. He is a personable young man who is in love with Meggie Oliphant (Allingham did enjoy a love interest), but besides that, there isn't much to say about the man.
I have no idea if Allingham was going to produce a series character and if he was going to be Abbershaw, (how different things would have been if she had gone in that direction), or if each book was going to be a standalone. Thankfully, between the publication of this book in 1929 and the subsequent one, 'Mystery Mile' featuring Campion, Allingham must have either thought Campion had more possibilities, or was told to ditch Abbershaw by her agent or even had an in-depth conversation with her husband and co-writer, Philip Youngman Carter. Whatever happened to bring Campion out into the spotlight, it worked. Here, Campion is the typical Harlequin when faced with danger, who disappears to forge his own adventures, while leaving us with Abbershaw. 'The Crime at Black Dudley' follows the usual pattern of Allingham's books – adventure tales for adults. There isn't really a denouement as such, but plenty of criminal gangs to keep the fires burning until the last page. This is not her best, but it will interest many to see Campion's origins. It is quite amazing that Allingham did alight on Campion out of such a large group of characters. Whatever is was, we are thankful she did as they certainly broke the mould after Campion was born!
Reviewed by: C.S.