The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 18, 2011

The Crime at Black Dudley

At last, after some considerable time, he drew up against the kerb on the corner of Berkeley Street. 'Will this do you?' he said.
      'Splendidly. Thanks awfully, old bird. I shall run into you some time, I hope.'
      Campion held out his hand as he spoke, and Abbershaw, overcome by an impulse, shook it warmly, and the question that had been on his lips all the drive suddenly escaped him.
      'I say, Campion,' he said, 'who the hell are you?'
      Mr. Campion paused on the running-board and there was a faintly puckish expression behind his enormous glasses.
      'Ah,' he said. 'Shall I tell you? Listen -- do you know who my mother is?'
      'No,' said Abbershaw, with great curiosity.
      Mr. Campion leaned over the side of the car until his mouth was an inch or two from the other man's ear, and murmured a name, a name so illustrious that Abbershaw started back and started at him in astonishment.
      'Good God!' he said. 'You don't mean that?'
      'No,' said Mr. Campion cheerfully, and went off striding jauntily down the street until, to Abbershaw's amazement, he disappeared through the portals of one of the most famous and exclusive clubs in the world.
from The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham (1929)

There are some Golden Age/vintage mystery writers who I've read a lot or most of {Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh), some that I know more from Masterpiece than from their books {Agatha Christie} and some I haven't yet read at all {Edmund Crispin, Michael Innes}  but want to. {I made a long list of books and writers after reading P.D. James' Talking about Detective Fiction last year.  Did you?}  Margery Allingham falls into the second bin, though I have read a few of her Albert Campions here and there.

The (wonderful) branch of our (incredible) town library that's down the street has a shelf dedicated to paperback mysteries, and when I'm passing it on the way to the cookbooks I'll often grab one just to have on hand when I need one. A few weeks ago, the book I grabbed was Flowers for the Judge, the seventh (?) book in the series, and I have to say I was a little underwhelmed.  So much so that although I can remember why it's called Flowers for the Judge {a passing detail; the judge presiding at the murder trial carried a bouquet to ward off noxious smells in the courtroom} and that Campion lives in a flat above a police station with his manservant, the wonderfully-named Magorsfontein Lugg, I can only vaguely remember who was murdered, and who did it. {That is probably me, though, and not so much the book.} 

Albert Campion is an interesting character, though (not really a detective, more of a mysterious fixer) and Allingham does a great job of drawing him (and her other characters) by focusing on their eccentricities, but it was all a little flat, somehow. I remember thinking that I would rather re-read the Dorothies (I only have one left unread!) or the ones I haven't dipped into yet, but I did wonder a little about how Campion was introduced and who he was supposed to be.

      'That had occurred to me,' he admitted. 'But I decided that in the excitement of the alarm whoever had it chucked it down where it was found next morning by one of the servants and put back.'
      Meggie looked at him and smiled.
      'Martin,' she said, 'your mother has the most marvelous butler in the world. Plantagenet, I do believe, would pick up a blood-stained dagger in the early morning, have it cleaned, and hang it up on its proper nail, and then consider it beneath his dignity to mention so trifling a matter during the police inquiries afterwards. But believe me, that man is unique. ...'
So, back at the beginning, The Crime at Black Dudley is a English country house murder mystery. The elderly man who lives there often encourages his young nephew to invite some young people for the weekend. Dr. Abbershaw, who consults for Scotland Yard, agrees to come if the girl he loves, Meggie Oliphant, is also invited. When the two parties meet at dinner, the elderly uncle is attended by a doctor and two ugly and forbidding Germans, and then there's another guest, a 'fresh-faced young man' with an 'absurd falsetto drawl' and 'tow-coloured hair and...foolish pale-blue eyes behind tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles' who no one seems to have invited. 

What happens after that {the dagger game, the murder, the secret passages, the fox hunt, the midnight drive} is completely improbable, and the ending is unhinted-at, but the writing is witty and my curiosity about Campion isn't satisfied. So I probably will read more of her books, when I come across them. {Have you? Do you like them?} I'm glad about that, because I seem to need an endless supply of mysteries. :)

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lyn said...

I read all of Allingham's books when I was a teenager & then, a couple of years ago, I reread about a dozen of them over the summer. I really enjoyed revisiting Campion & the other characters. I'm sure I'll go back to them again one day.

Lisa said...

I love Albert Campion and the supporting cast, but I have mixed reactions to some of the books. Flowers for the Judge didn't make much of an impression, and I feel like I didn't quite get Police at the Funeral, or More Work for the Undertaker. I love others, like The Gyrth Chalice Mystery and Death of a Ghost. I suppose that's only to be expected in a long and varied series.

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