Eight guests descend upon Black Dudley Manor for a weekend party hosted by Wyatt Petrie at the home of his uncle, Colonel Wyatt Coombe, in Margery Allingham’s 1929 introduction to her famous Albert Campion in The Crime at Black Dudley. They learn about a family tradition with a jeweled dagger that they each try to pass on to someone else in the dark and decide to play the game. Dr. George Abbershaw, who serves as the key character in the book, has worked as an expert witness for Scotland Yard. He gets bored and wanders outside to look at all the cars in the stable. Before long he gets joined by Albert Campion, but soon they spot signs of problems going on in the house, so both hurry to the manor, but not before George spies something curious on the ground and palms it. As they get inside, they learn that Colonel Coombe has had a heart attack and is upstairs resting.
But soon someone fetches George because the colonel has died, and though his personal doctor has been in attendance, the people claim that Colonel Coombe wanted to be cremated, which requires the signature of two doctors as to the cause of death, hence the need for Dr. Abbershaw. But George finds things suspicious, especially as the “servants” in the room seem determined to prevent George from seeing the covered body, but he does manage to uncover the face, which tells him that the man died a suspicious death, not of a heart attack. But the pressure from the “servants” forces George to sign the death certificate, regardless of his opinions.
Soon George learns that the “servants” are all criminals, with “Benjamin Dawlish” being really Eberhard Von Faber, the great German master criminal, and Von Faber can’t locate papers worth millions of pounds to him that he should have found in the house. But these are the papers George found among the cars, and he burned them. Then, the niggle at the back of George’s mind tells him why Campion looks so familiar. He has known the man under a different name, but he learns that Campion is not the man’s real name either. He recognizes the man as a bit of a scoundrel, who is willing to take on jobs regardless of legality if they pay well and are exciting. Though the man comes across as a silly imbecile full only of nonsense, Campion actually is resourceful and clever, as the group gets held hostage by the criminals.
Though The Crime at Black Dudley is known for introducing Albert Campion, Campion actually serves as a secondary character in this book. He plays a foil to George Abbershaw, the main character, who comes across as solid and dependable, highly logical. Campion appears at first glance to be all the opposite of those features, yet when called upon to deal with serious situations, it is Campion who rises to the rescue.
This book came across as darker than I had expected, with the guests all being held hostage by a criminal mastermind who seems to be a madman. Things go from moderately negative to very dark as the book progresses. But thankfully Campion provides comic relief that makes the book much less disturbing than it could be. The mystery of who killed Colonel Coombe takes a back seat to the darker situation of trying escape the clutches of Von Faber.
David Thorpe narrates the audio version of The Crime at Black Dudley. Overall, I enjoyed his performance, with his timing and inflections. My one concern was the voice that Thorpe used for Campion. I assume this was meant to reflect the silliness of Campion’s persona, but I found the high pitch and tones of voice used for Campion annoying.
The Crime at Black Dudley gives an interesting introduction to Albert Campion, who proves to be a fun, creative character. The plot gets darker than I’d like, but it is tightly woven and well- written. I give this book three stars.
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