The Crime at Black Dudley : Albert Campion

  • by Margery Allingham
  • Narrated by David Thorpe
  • Series: Albert Campion
  • 7 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

When George Abbershaw is invited to Black Dudley Manor for the weekend, he has only one thing on his mind - proposing to Meggie Oliphant. Unfortunately for George, things don't quite go according to plan. A harmless game turns decidedly deadly and suspicions of murder take precedence over matrimony. Trapped in a remote country house with a murderer, George can see no way out. But Albert Campion can.
About the author: Margery Allingham was born in London in 1904. Her first novel was published when she was 17. In 1929 she published The Crime at Black Dudley and introduced the character who was to become the hallmark of her writing - Albert Campion.

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Campion's first appearance...

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Dr 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.

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.

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.

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- FictionFan

I had to stop listening after thirty minutes

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A different reader


Who was your favorite character and why?

I didn't get far enough into the book to be able to say.


What didn’t you like about David Thorpe’s performance?

David's Thorpe narrative voice is quite unsuitable for this period piece: he sounds far too modern. But the thing that made me stop listening was his ridiculous rendering of Albert Campion's voice: while it is true that Campion is described as foppish in this book, it is a great mistake to rob him of all dignity by making him sound like a squeaky-voiced fool. For a perfect reading of the Campion novels, listen to the audio books narrated by Philip Franks; I was highly misguided to think another reader could come anywhere near him. Or for an excellent portrayal of Campion on screen, watch the Peter Davison version.


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- Allegra

Book Details

  • Release Date: 14-02-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios