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The Black Dudley Murder (released in England as The Crime at Black Dudley) is a somewhat awkward early murder mystery by Margery Allingham, who went on to become -- along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngiao Marsh --- one of the grand dames of the Golden Age of British mystery. She sets things up well enough, drawing a group of characters to a secluded country house and offing one early in the proceedings, but a number of problems arise. The first is that the villain is over-played, almost a Professor Moriarity type, an evil mastermind better suited to a John Buchan story or even a James Bond thriller. Even worse, she seems to have recognized somewhere along the line that the character she thought would be the hero of her series is rather boring by comparison to the foppish Albert Campion, a secondary character here who took over the later books. As soon as he leaves the stage the story loses steam and when the setting shifts from the manor house it deflates entirely.

Still, it's interesting for its introduction of Campion, who describes his chosen line of work, amateur sleuth and sort-of-thief, thus:
"Profession?" he said indignantly. "It's my vocation. It seemed to me that I had no talent for anything else, but in this line I can eke out the family pittance with tolerable comfort. Of course," he went on suddenly, as he caught sight of Meggie's face, "I don't exactly 'crim', you know, as I told the doc here. My taste is impeccable. Most of my commissions are more secret than shady. I occasionally do a spot of work for the Government, though, of course, that isn't as lucrative as honest crime. This little affair, of course, was perfectly simple. I had only to join this house-party, take a packet of letters from the old gentleman, toddle back to the Savoy, and my client would be waiting for me. A hundred guineas, and all clean fun--no brain-work required." He beamed at them.
The real fun though lies in the subsequent Campion mysteries and in the entertaining BBC films made from them.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C+)

  

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Mystery
Margery Allingham Links:

    -Margery Allingham Society (Lesley Simpson)
    -The Margery Allingham Archive
    -Margery Allingham 1904-1966 (National Portrait Gallery)
    -Literary Encyclopedia: Allingham, Margery

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