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.