The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham read by David Thorpe

Campion’s first appearance…

😀 😀 😀 😀

the-crime-at-black-dudleyDr George Abbershaw has gone down to Black Dudley Manor to join a house party for the weekend. The house is owned by George’s friend, Wyatt Petrie, but is occupied by Wyatt’s uncle by marriage, Colonel Coombe. The elderly wheelchair-bound colonel likes the company of young people, so often asks Wyatt to bring a group of his friends down for the weekend. George, though, is there mainly because he’s fallen in love with a girl who is also a guest, Meggie Oliphaunt, and he hopes to find an opportunity to propose to her. Colonel Coombe has also invited a few friends of his own.

In the evening, talk turns to old legends and Wyatt reluctantly tells of the ritual of a dagger that hangs prominently on the wall. The ritual involves turning off the lights and running around the house in the dark, passing the knife from person to person. What jolly fun! However when the lights come up Colonel Coombe is found dead. His friends tell the assembled company that his death was expected as he was very ill, and hasten to get a cremation certificate signed and hustle the body off the premises, so as not to spoil the weekend (!). But it soon becomes obvious to George that there’s something fishy going on (!) – and when something goes missing, suddenly the young people find themselves the prisoners of the Colonel’s friends…

This is apparently the book in which Allingham’s regular ‘tec, Albert Campion, makes his first appearance, although in this one, George is the main focus and Campion is a secondary character. George is a sensible young man, but Campion appears to be a foolish fop, like Bertie Wooster, only with fewer brains and a falsetto voice. He does develop a bit more depth as the book progresses, but it’s a strange first outing.

Peter Davidson as Campion and Brian Glover as his manservant Lugg in the TV adaptation
Peter Davidson as Campion and Brian Glover as his manservant Lugg in the TV adaptation

There is much running to and fro through secret tunnels, which are nearly as complex as the convoluted plot involving criminal gangs, mysterious papers and suchlike. Despite the darkness of the plot, and some episodes of viciousness on the part of the baddies, the general tone is light and fun. George and Meggie are both likeable characters, and their romance is handled nicely, not overwhelming the story but giving the reader something to care about amidst all the mayhem. Campion adds a lot of humour to the story, partly laughing with him and partly laughing at him. He’s shrewder than he first appears, but in the end it’s down to George to solve the puzzle of what it is the colonel’s friends are looking for, and who killed the colonel. And of course to engineer the escape from the baddies. In fact, Campion more or less disappears towards the end and plays no part in the final denouement – presumably at that point Allingham didn’t see him as her central character.

I listened to the audiobook version, and I have to say I felt David Thorpe’s narration was great! I’ve seen some critical reviews of it, mainly from Campion fans objecting to the falsetto voice he uses for Campion and for the foolishness Thorpe puts into his character. But this is how he is written in the book and I felt Thorpe was paying attention to the words of this one, rather than basing his characterisation on how Campion develops in later novels. Thorpe brings out all the humour in the story, but also does an excellent job with the darker sections. He held my attention throughout, which doesn’t always happen with audiobooks. A 5 star narration, in my opinion.

Margery Allingham
Margery Allingham

However, I’ve never rated Allingham as highly as the other Golden Age Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers; and truthfully I’m not sure that this book has changed my mind. I found it enjoyable, but too convoluted and not at all credible, and apart from George and Meggie, too many of the characters are caricatures. I didn’t feel it was fairplay at all – the eventual solution seemed to come from nowhere, though of course it’s possible I missed hidden clues along the way (even good audiobooks have a tendency to induce occasional napping). I’m glad I listened though – I think the narration actually made me enjoy the book more than I might have, had I been reading a paper copy. So overall, a fun listen of a reasonably entertaining book, but probably not the best one to start with to get a feel for the character Campion eventually becomes.

I was inspired to seek out this book by Margot Kinberg’s excellent Spotlight of it.

Albert Campion is one of Martin Edwards’ picks for Ten Top Golden Age Detectives.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

40 thoughts on “The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham read by David Thorpe

  1. Thank you for the kind mention, FIctionFan! I do agree with you that the way Campion is presented here is a little odd, considering he does grow and evolve over time. Still, I think that house is deliciously creepy. I think you’re right about the wit, too.

    • My pleasure, Margot! I actually quite liked the Campion character in this one, except for the falsetto voice which seemed most strange! However, it certainly added to the humour of the narration…

    • I struggle with Campion altogether really – always did.

      I know!! I’m shattered after that match so I can only imagine how exhausted Rafa must be. I hope whoever wins it’s a great match… 🙂

  2. I agree with you, FF. I liked Campion, but not as much as Alleyn, Wimsey, Poirot, or Marple. I’m not quite sure why. I liked watching Peter Davison as Campion, however.

    • I think it’s Allingham’s plots that never appeal to me much, as much as the actual character of Campion. Christie’s way ahead of the rest for me, though I did enjoy the Alleyn books a lot when I first read them. Somehow I find Christie stands up better to re-reading…

      • Totally agree. I reread one of Marsh’s books, but didn’t enjoy it as much the second time. But I’ve reread Christie’s books several times. Her language is so crisp.

        • I think both Marsh and Sayers books seem very snobbish these days. It didn’t bother me back when I first read them, but it does now – they’ve not aged as well as Christie, I think. Maybe having a Belgian detective instead of a Lord was a good idea…

  3. I’ve never heard of this author. Since crime is not a genre I read much, I think I will stick with Agatha Christie for now. It’s interesting how much different an experience it can be when you listen to a book, rather than read it, especially when you have a certain expectation of the voice or behavior of a particular character.

    • She is popular but personally I think Agatha Christie is head and shoulders above the rest of the crime writers of the Golden Age. I know – I was surprised when I saw this narrator had been criticised for this one till I spotted that it seemed to be Campion fans who had a preconception about how he *should* sound. I find these old crime novels work particularly well on audio for some reason – haven’t quite worked out why yet…

  4. Hmmmm… what could possibly go wrong with turning out the lights and running around with a knife to pass around like a baton? This sounds like a plot I concocted in grade school! Only substitute knife with a bouncy ball.

    Enjoyed the review, especially knowing my TBR is intact… 😁

  5. I’m a great fan of Allingham/Campion, but I must confess that, when I reread this one recently for the first time in decades, I remembered how much I was disappointed by it. Luckily I started reading Allingham somewhere in the middle, so Black Dudley didn’t deter me from reading the others.

    • I’ve read a couple from later and was surprised by this one. It was the falsetto voice most of all – he doesn’t have that later on, does he? I’m tempted to see if this narrator has recorded any of the later ones to see if he sticks with this “voice” for Campion or tones it down as the books progress… I do usually enjoy the books well enough, but not nearly as much as Christie.

  6. I’m with DD on this one — who in their right mind runs in the dark with a knife?? Haven’t they heard the old adage about running with scissors? Every preschool around warns kids NOT to do that! No wonder that poor old fellow died — he was probably shocked senseless at this idea of a fun game! I think I’ll have to pass on this one, sorry.

    • Hahaha, I know!! Lucky there was only one corpse when the lights went back up! I also loved the idea that they’d hustle the corpse away so as not to spoil the weekend – that’s taking the stiff upper lip just a little too far… 😉

  7. A very even handed review FF. I like how the murder happened running around a room in the dark – what a damned foolish game!! I haven’t read any of Allingham’s books but the character progression sounds a bit off, almost as if she switched ideas after the first book

    • Hahaha, I know! You just know it’s not going to end well don’t you?? Clearly the guests hadn’t read enough murder mysteries! Yes, Campion is quite different in the later books, and if you ever decided to try them, this is one series I wouldn’t really recommend starting at the beginning. I’m not too keen on them, preferring Christie personally, but loads of people love her books…

  8. Sounds a bit like ‘Murder in the Dark’ which we played outside on the farm as children. Very considerate of the host not to cancel the weekend fun, despite the death of the Colonel… I like to think that if one of us (or one of my cousins, or neighbour’s children) were killed while playing Murder in the Dark, that Mum and Dad would have cancelled the rest of the weekend’s entertainment.

  9. Have not read any Campion books. This did sound interesting though. I think I tried the show and not one of my faves. Maybe books are better? (Have you heard yet who won? I know, but didn’t want to spoil if you didn’t yet know between Rafa and Fed)

    • I was the same with the show but I suspect that’s because I don’t much like the Campion character, because normally I love the actor who plays him. But loads of people really enjoy the Campion books, so hopefully you might too…

      (Yes!! Up at dawn to watch it. Poor Rafa, but I couldn’t help but be pleased for Roger – as he said in his speech, I kinda wish sometimes tennis matches could end in a draw… )

    • Yes, this is rather an odd one. Thanks for the suggestions – I have an Audible credit hanging around, so since I liked this narrator I’ll have a look to see if he did either of those… 🙂

    • Oh, now, you’ve reminded that someone else recommended that to me ages ago – can’t remember who sadly! (Maybe you!) I’ve got a spare Audible credit so since I liked the narrator I’ll see if he recorded that one – thanks for the rec!

  10. A book with my birth name in it?? Well, technically mine is spelled with a Y and not ie. Meggy looked better to my mother, haha! For this reason only I need to find a copy of this! I like that it’s a fun and light read, even if it’s not the best in the genre, it can give you a few enjoyable hours of reading 🙂

    • Ah, now, it might be spelled with a Y in the book – the problem with audiobooks is that you sometimes just have to guess at the spelling! She’s a nice character – you’ll like her! Yes, I love these vintage crime novels for that very reason – they’re not too demanding and usually quite fun. Make a nice change… 🙂

  11. I agree that there are some books that lend themselves better to audio instead of the page. When I reviewed The Woman in Cabin Ten, I wrote something similar. I could easily see how many lines would fall flat on the page, but spoken in a shuttering, terrified voice made the lines reasonable.

    I really, really wanted this book to be about the uncle’s death and then they all look up and the dagger is gone and they have a good old-fashioned game of Who Has the Dagger And When Will I Be Stabbed? What fun! 😀

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