The Crime at Black Dudley

Margery Allingham introduces her series detective Albert Campion

Fans of classic crime fiction still enjoy reading the work of authors from the Golden Age, who were writing between 1920 and the beginning of the Second World War.

A measure of the popularity of this genre is the amount of TV and film versions of the books that are still being made.

When people talk about the Queens of Crime from that era, the names Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers will immediately spring to mind, with the New Zealand author Ngaio Marsh not too far behind.

You can usually find books by these three talented ladies on the shelves in the crime sections of most public libraries.

Margery Allingham's first
crime novel
But you might struggle to find any of the novels of Margery Allingham, the English writer who was the fourth member of the elite Queens of Crime club.

Margery Allingham was born in 1904 in London and began writing at the age of eight when she had a story published in a magazine.

Her first novel was published when she was 19, but she did not make her breakthrough as a crime writer until her novel The Crime at Black Dudley was published in 1929. This introduced her series detective, the gentleman sleuth Albert Campion, even though he appeared only as a minor character in her first book.

He was at first thought to be a parody of Dorothy L Sayers’ hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, but Campion matured as the series of books progressed showing there was a lot more to him than you see at first glance and he became increasingly popular with readers.

Vintage Books, part of the Penguin Random House Group, have now republished all Margery’s novels featuring her series detective Albert Campion, making it likely that some of them will eventually be stocked by public libraries.

While Agatha wrote an amazing 66 detective novels, Ngaio comes in second with 32, and Margery is third with 18, finishing ahead of Dorothy, who wrote a total of 16 crime novels during her career.

I had never read any of Margery’s books and so, because I like to begin at the beginning, I started with The Crime at Black Dudley.

A group of young people have been invited to a country house party for the weekend, which is being held in a remote mansion in Suffolk. The story is told from the point of view of a young doctor, George Abbershaw, whose book on pathology had made him a minor celebrity. He is a friend of the host, a distinguished scholar named Wyatt Petrie.

Margery Allingham wrote 18 detective novels
Margery Allingham wrote 18
detective novels
When the host’s uncle is murdered, the young people find themselves being held hostage by a small number of armed men, who claim that an important item has been taken from the body of the victim and that the guests must remain at the house until it is found and handed in.

It is a novel full of suspense and there is violence, fighting and many shots are fired. My first thoughts were that it was unlike the Poirot and Miss Marple novels of Agatha Christie or the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L Sayers. The atmosphere of action and danger was more like that of the The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, which was published seven years earlier.

George Abbershaw eventually solves the crime with the help of the other guests, including a strange young man named Albert Campion, who no one seems to know anything about.

It is a satisfying conclusion, and although the society and way of life Margery describes might seem rather dated now, it has left me wanting to read more. Next on my list is Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham, first published in 1930.

Margery died at the age of 62 of breast cancer and her final novel, Cargo of Eagles, was finished by her husband Philip Youngman Carter and published in 1968, two years after her death.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham is available in a variety of formats from Amazon.


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